Just like last year, rumors about a possible Jason Kidd trade dominate the headlines. Is he going to join King James in Cleveland? Will he join the Nuggets? Or will he be shipped to the star-studded Dallas Mavericks who are still thinking whether Kidd is worth the price of Devin Harris or not. Yet in the mist of these rumors we witnessed another blockbuster deal on Friday. Pau Gasol, the forgotten former face of the Grizzlies franchise, has been traded to the Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a few draft picks. Gasol will be joining Kobe & Co in a 'tectonic plates' moving trade that, at least on paper, should shift the power balance in the West and allow the Lakers to join the elite teams of Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio in a bid to be last team standing in June.
It's been a while since the Lakers had a strong scoring low-post presence at the four position. The last forward to come to mind is Karl Malone but he was too old to provide solid scoring at power forward. This changes with the arrival of Pau. The 7-foot Spaniard is a career 19 ppg scorer and is used to being the first option throughout his tenure with the Grizzlies. He is expected to become a solid second scoring option behind Kobe. This is what the Lakers initially wanted from Lamar Odom yet the pass first forward proved to be a disappointment as a scorer even though his skills as a passer and a rebounder come in handy for the Lakers. With the arrival of Gasol, Odom slips to a very solid, although quite expensive ($13,248,596 this year), fourth option on the team behind Kobe, Gasol and Bynum. That's 14 points 10 boards and 5 assists as a FOURTH option on a team that was 29-16 even before Gasol's arrival. Now the monster Lakers frontcourt will include three double figure rebounders, solid scorers and passers, combine that with the backcourt of a solid veteran and arguably the best player in the game and the LA lineup finally looks scary. We all know that Kobe will continue to average 30-6-6 and that Bynum will get his double-double on a nightly basis. However, the way Gasol will fit in and the way Odom adjusts to being a fourth option will determine where the Lakers are going to end up in May and June. If Gasol can bring 16+ points and 8+ boards to the table every night the Lakers will be laughing. Odom should fit in nicely as a rebounder and a passer as he will not be expected to become a second scoring option anymore.
On paper the Lakers suddenly became one of the best teams in the NBA. They seem to be well set at every position. Fisher and Farmar are solid points, Kobe has backup help from Vujacic and Ariza (who can also play the three), Odom and Walton are both formidable small forwards while the post will be manned by Gasol, Bynum, Mihm, Ronny Turiaf and the recently signed DJ Mbenga. Throw in the 6-10 three point specialist Vladimir Radmanovic along with the still developing Coby Karl and the Lakers are locked at all positions indeed. Opposing teams already have constant headache by the name of Kobe Bryant, but now they will have to think what to do with the double-team demanding Gasol and how can anybody double-team Gasol while leaving Bynum and Odom free to cause havoc in the paint and Derek Fisher to drain those three pointers? That is the question the teams will have to answer when facing the guys in purple and gold for the remainder of this season. Offensively the Lakers look unstoppable, however, the game is played at both ends, and Gasol is not a defensive upgrade from Kwame Brown. How will Odom defend all the quicker threes is another question the Lakers need to address. Perhaps a zone could be the answer. Three athletic seven-footers in a zone defense sounds like a tough challenge for opposing big men. While Bryant is a first team defensive player, a zone could give him some time to rest on the defensive end.
The biggest concern for Los Angeles is health. Bynum should return by the end of May but the Lakers are lacking serious backup at the center until Chris Mihm will return from his injury. For now, they will have to play Gasol at the five. He was decent enough at this position in Memphis but the plan is to eventually slide him to the four position where he is more productive. Overall the Lakers are now a team to beat.
We'll have a look at potential playoff matchups in Part 2 of this article.