With the trade deadline nearing on February 21, the rumor mill is certain to heat up. One of the teams expected to be heavily involved in trade rumors are the Los Angeles Lakers.
As their dismal season has continued, fans and front office executives alike have feverishly striven to find a solution to the team’s problems.
Fingers have immediately pointed to Pau Gasol as the most likely candidate to be traded, especially since the hire of Mike D’Antoni. Gasol is playing his least amount of minutes since the 2004-05 season.
D’Antoni likes to push the pace and play small lineups, which goes against Pau’s abilities. Furthermore, the addition of Dwight Howard has moved Gasol to the stretch power forward position. His talents are best used in pick-and-roll situations and on the block, where he can create his own shot and hit cutters slashing to the basket.
However, those looking at Pau Gasol as the scapegoat or the most likely player to be traded should ease off the gas for a second.
In fact, the one deadline deal the Lakers need to make is to not make one at all.
First off, the top two Lakers five-man floor units, according to 82games, have Gasol and Howard on the floor together. The main problem with the Lakers is on the defensive end of the floor—not on offense.
While trading Gasol would allow the Lakers to receive a package of players that would likely fit into D’Antoni’s schemes better, that does not necessarily mean it will be a good package or one that brings back equal value for a player of Gasol’s caliber.
Gasol is currently having the worst season of his illustrious career but is being misused by his head coach.
Is Gasol worth the $36 million he is owed? Probably not, but dealing him for pennies on the dollar is not something the Lakers should do, regardless of how poorly their season is going.
Secondly, Gasol is essentially the team’s backup plan if Howard bolts Tinseltown this summer. Imagine a scenario where the Lakers deal Gasol at the trade deadline for a package of players that fit into Mike D’Antoni’s offense and then Howard signs elsewhere this summer.
The Lakers would have just gone from having one of the most talented frontcourts in the league to not having one worthy of making the playoffs. For as bad as Gasol is playing right now, he still provides the Lakers with an insurance policy in case Dwight walks in July.
Furthermore, the Lakers offense has been good, despite Gasol’s struggles. Hoopdata has them ranked sixth in offensive efficiency. D’Antoni’s offense is clearly working, especially due to Kobe Bryant’s stellar season.
Offense has been the least of the Lakers’ concerns, although the breakneck pace they play at is disrupting their defense.
The Lakers sit third in the NBA in pace, which is part of the reason why the Lakers’ defense has been so poor. There are simply too many possessions created in order for the Lakers to be an effective defensive team.
Factor in a number of injuries and Dwight Howard not being fully healthy all season, and that spells trouble for any team defense.
Moving on from Gasol, there are not many other trade options the Lakers can or should explore. They certainly are not trading Kobe Bryant. Steve Nash was just acquired and is not going anywhere. Jordan Hill was a trade candidate, but that is no longer the case with him being out for the season. Metta World Peace is the next viable option, but like Gasol, will not fetch much in return.
Any other trade would be done to dump a contract because the Lakers currently have a $100 million roster. Even if the Lakers wanted to go down that route, they do not have much to offer a team in the form of draft picks or young players who would be required to dump a contract like Steve Blake or Chris Duhon.
Trading Gasol is the only viable option the Lakers have should they want to shake things up. As mentioned above, moving Gasol would return a package of less than full value and might expose the Lakers next season should Dwight sign elsewhere.
The real problems with the Lakers stem from Mike D’Antoni and the team’s defense. While a trade seems inevitable, the Lakers really should stand pat at the trade deadline.