Dwight Howard needs complementary pieces for the Lakers to compete long-term. Pau Gasol may or may not be the answer.
However this wildly bizarre season turns out for the Los Angeles Lakers, they will need to address several key issues, including the future of Pau Gasol.
The 32-year-old, seven-foot Spaniard is a lock for the Basketball Hall of Fame. But his noticeable absence from the lineup this season—due to both injury and a coach who didn't know where to play him—would seem to indicate he is expendable.
There are pros and cons to shopping a high-priced superstar who has helped your team win back-to-back championships. On the plus side, making a deal now for Gasol may help land a younger, more athletic replacement who can complement Dwight Howard over the next few seasons (assuming that D12 re-signs and stays in Los Angeles).
Of course, deals like these can also come back to haunt a team. Gasol will, hopefully, recover from his concussion and various knee problems enough to enjoy at least another couple of productive seasons. And if he does that on some other team, the Lakers might kick themselves for having pulled the trade trigger.
It's not like the Lakers don't have any help at the power forward position. They are just very thin. Jordan Hill was making tremendous strides before going down for the season after suffering a major hip injury that will probably require surgery.
Earl Clark has been a major "find" off the bench for the Lakers, being thrown into the fray by coach Mike D'Antoni after Hill, Gasol and Howard (who has since returned) all went down within a few days of each other. Clark is long (6'10") and runs the court like a guard, which is what he used to play as a kid before growing an extra foot.
Still, the Lakers need complementary pieces at forward for Dwight Howard. And while he publicly states how much he likes being in Los Angeles, there are no guarantees he will stay when he becomes a free agent this summer.
It won't be easy trying to pry a stellar superstar away from his current team, but the Lakers have found ways in the past, and they must do everything they possibly can to make it happen again.
David Lee would be a great addition: he scores and gobbles up offensive rebounds.
There was a time when the Lakers could count on Pau Gasol for 20 points and 10 rebounds every single night.
David Lee is that type of a sure thing, and the Lakers could surely use that now.
The 6'9", 240-pound power forward has been a steady scoring machine for the Golden State Warriors since arriving there in 2010. Lee averaged 20 points last year and is on pace to do the same this season.
Lee is a great offensive rebounder and will not get in Dwight Howard's way underneath the basket. If there is one negative about him, it's his defensive skills.
As John Hollinger wrote on ESPN.com's Insider:
It's off the ball where he really fades from the scene: Lee just doesn't help. Only seven power forwards blocked shots less often, and the Warriors once again gave up more points (3.8 per 100 possessions) with Lee on the floor.
The 29-year-old Lee is in his prime and vastly underrated. But because Jerry West now works for the Warriors as a consultant, the chances of him being traded down south to Los Angeles seem remote.
The knock on David Lee has always been that he can fill up the stat sheet but he's not going to help you win games. I used to have that perception of him, too, but now he's answering a lot of his critics because he's winning games and he's playing at a high level. He's scoring, he's rebounding, he's defending and he's making some big plays. He's definitely not just along for the ride.
Paul Millsap may be the most underrated big man in the game.
At 6'8", 250 pounds, Paul Millsap is undersized and underrated.
And given the fact that he's being pushed by the younger Derrick Favors in Utah, Millsap just may become available before too long. He'll be 28 next month and would make a superb addition to the Lakers' lineup.
This from Sean Cochran of Dime Magazine on Paul Millsap:
With young stud Derrick Favors breathing down his neck for additional playing time, it will be interesting to see how Millsap takes advantage of this season (a contract year) and whether or not he sticks with the Jazz beyond 2013. If he makes it to free agency next summer, there are plenty of teams that will be willing to fork out some decent cash for his services.
Millsap is a career 52 percent shooter who averages about seven boards a game.
As Hollinger points out via ESPN.com Insider:
He's not a prototype 4 because he's undersized, but he's athletic, skilled and just knows how to play. He beats smaller players on post-ups, takes bigger ones off the dribble and confounds both with his midrange jump shot. Last season was his best yet -- he averaged better than a point every two minutes, ranked sixth among power forwards in player efficiency rating, and had he been in the Eastern Conference certainly would have made the All-Star Game.
In any of these deals, the Lakers would have to give up a lot to get such talent. They really don't have draft picks and might even have to consider using the amnesty clause on one of their forwards, including Pau Gasol.
But Paul Millsap in a Lakers uniform alongside Dwight Howard? With Jordan Hill and Earl Clark as backups off the bench?
Things could be looking up for Smith and Lakers if they make a trade.
It's OK to dream, isn't it?
Josh Smith and Dwight Howard, together, on the front line of the L.A. Lakers. Now that would be an exceptional pairing.
Josh Smith has been the stuff of trade rumors for months. And the Lakers consistently surface as one of the teams he might be headed to.
Just how L.A. would orchestrate such a deal is beyond me, given that Pau Gasol is owed more than $19 million next year. But Smith, who will make $13.2 million this year, is a free agent come June, and Atlanta will be considerably under the cap and could easily afford Gasol.
Last year, Smith shot 68.1 percent in the basket area (according to ESPN Stats). As Hollinger wrote: "He has become a beast on the low left block against smaller opponents and has become a heck of a player in spite of himself."
The 6'9", 27-year-old Smith is averaging 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds this year despite shooting just 35 percent from the floor. Part of that low percentage is due to injury and part is due to Smith's proclivity for shooting 20-foot jumpers, which he is not very good at. Only Kobe Bryant of the Lakers took more long twos last year than Smith.
In a Mike D'Antoni system, Smith might feel as if he had carte blanche to shoot from anywhere on the court. But playing alongside Howard and Bryant, he would quickly learn the pecking order.
Out for 8-10 weeks due to injury, Love would still be a tremendous catch for the Lakers.
Kevin Love has Los Angeles written all over him, except on the front of his basketball jersey.
The 6'10" power forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves is presently in rehab mode after undergoing successful surgery to repair the third and fourth metacarpal in his right hand. He is out of action for at least two-and-a-half months, so he may return in time for the playoffs.
That is, if the T-Wolves make the playoffs.
At 24, K-Love has blossomed into the league's rising superstar at power forward. Aside from his injury, Love is in tremendous shape and has worked on expanding his offensive repertoire to that point where he can knock down shots from various distance with moves that would make Larry Bird proud.
As John Hollinger comments on ESPN.com Insider:
Hello, superstar. Love improved his conditioning, upgraded his defense and showed off a crazy step-back 3-pointer move that opposing big men seem hopeless defending.
Love is statistically the best rebounding power forward since Dennis Rodman. He’s the first player since Shaq to average over 26 points and 13 boards for a season.
Persistent speculation that Minnesota would consider a deal to bring Pau Gasol to Minneapolis so as to pair him with fellow countryman Ricky Rubio has Lakers fans drooling. Add that to the fact that Love does not seem all that enamored with performing on a basketball stage that gets scant attention nationally and you have the makings of the ultimate Lakers trade drama.
Love is a great passer, but more importantly he is a voracious rebounder. He and Dwight Howard together in the frontcourt would set new standards for defensive excellence.
Ryan Anderson is the most improved player in the NBA.
OK, Mitch Kupchak—work some Lakers magic and pull Ryan Anderson out of a hat.
The New Orleans Hornets power forward is simply a great fit and complementary piece that would give the Lakers exceptional depth in the frontcourt.
Anderson and Howard played together in Orlando so they are familiar with each other's game. Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, the ideal pairing.
Anderson blossomed as a starter last year for the Magic, and he hasn't let up since arriving in New Orleans to start the 2012-13 season. The 6'10", 240-pound PF from the University of California is averaging 16.8 points in 32 minutes and shooting 43 percent from the field.
More importantly, Anderson is hitting 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He is not shy, converting on three of 7.7 attempts.
Anderson would instantly become the Lakers' best shooting big man and would force opponents to come out and guard him. That, in turn, would open up the post for D12, and you know what comes after that.
With Anthony Davis penciled in as the future of the Hornets franchise, it would seem that Anderson might eventually become odd man out. Trade speculation will continue because of that.