The LA Lakers' Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint
Pau Gasol has been unhappy throughout the season and has indicated that he may want to be moved if Mike D'Antoni and Dwight Howard remain with the Lakers next season (h/t T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times).
Dwight Howard has had his own gripes with Kobe Bryant and D'Antoni's system, which ironically is centered around Howard and Steve Nash in a pick-and-roll focused offense.
With such a clash of egos and talents, it is clear that the Lakers are in desperate need of a mix-up in order to keep the peace both on the court and in the locker room.
Underneath all of the melodramatic sniping and underachievement on the court, the Lakers are in a position similar to the Orlando Magic's last year in terms of Howard's contractual status.
There are constant uncertainties in terms of roles for Gasol and Howard in an offense that is trying to cater to both D'Antoni's philosophy and Howard's need for the ball.
Considering all of these issues, the Lakers' problems are magnified given their lack of alluring trade assets as the trade deadline nears.
At the top of the totem pole, their most valuable trade asset is Howard himself.
Despite being hindered by his back and a lingering shoulder injury, Howard is still the most dominant big man in the NBA when he is healthy. With such a massive amount of physical prowess and raw talent, many teams are still foaming at the mouth for an opportunity to sign the big man after his contract runs its course at the end of this season.
However, given his status as the league's premier big man, it is almost impossible for the Lakers to reap an equal return on any trade.
Looking at the rest of their assets, the Lakers don't have much else to offer.
Metta World Peace is almost a non-factor on the market due to his inconsistency and tarnished image.
Antawn Jamison is showing his age, and players like Jodie Meeks and Darius Morris are just raw, athletic prospects.
Considering Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to be the two untouchables given Bryant's legacy and tenure and Nash's relationship with D'Antoni, Gasol is the best trading chip outside of Howard.
However, Gasol's trade value continues to plummet given his recent injury woes and decline in performance on the court.
The trade speculation that yields the most substance for Gasol revolves around Andrea Bargnani, who is a three-point shooting big man who fits in well with D'Antoni's system (h/t Marc Stein, ESPN.com).
Although Bargnani is nowhere near Gasol's equal in almost every facet of the game besides three-point shooting, it is clear that Gasol isn't a good fit for D'Antoni's vision.
However, given the mitigation of Gasol's game by D'Antoni and the natural regression he is facing due to age and injuries, it is a safe bet to assume that the Lakers may be able to expect slightly better production from Bargnani, who fits in very well with D'Antoni's spread-the-floor offense.
For the Lakers, a realistic approach would be to blow up the team and start the rebuilding process.
Trading Howard for young talent and/or expiring contracts may help in that process.
However, given the fact that the Lakers are led by Bryant, rebuilding during this season may not be an option. Thus, their best bet to stay competitive is to continue to try to establish Howard in the post and trade Gasol for a complementary player like Bargnani.
Although the Lakers are in a lose-lose situation no matter who they trade, their options revolve around trading Howard to rebuild or trading Gasol to try to stay competitive.
The best route may be to keep Gasol and try to make it work with the skilled big man. However, it is clear that D'Antoni isn't willing to try to work toward that. Thus, trading Gasol may be the only way to keep the peace in the locker room and make a final push for the playoffs.
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