NBA @ 2: Kupchak Can’t Deny Gasol Rumors
Kobe Bryant recently called out the Los Angeles Lakers front office for a definitive answer on the future of Pau Gasol.
The Lakers are a solid 14-2 at home but struggled on the road at just 5-11.
While Bryant’s aim was to stand up for teammate Gasol, General Manager Mitch Kupchak is in no position to promise anything.
The team released a prepared statement from Kupchak on Monday:
“As a former player, I understand how the days leading up to the trade deadline can be nerve-wracking for an NBA player. Nonetheless, as General Manager of the Lakers, I have a responsibility to ownership, our fans and the players on this team to actively pursue opportunities to improve the team for this season and seasons to come. To say publicly that we would not do this would serve no purpose and put us at a competitive disadvantage. Taking such a course of action at this time would be a disservice to ownership, the team and our many fans.
In other words, as HOOPSWORLD has been reporting for some time the team is going to listen to offers for Gasol.
Kupchak, when aiming to shut down rumors in the past, has been clear and concise.
“We’re not going to trade Kobe,” is what he said back in 2004. “We’re just not going to do it. Period.”
Mitch has shot down Andrew Bynum rumors in the past with a similar approach.
This is not that.
The Lakers are facing an uncertain future in which Gasol, Bryant and Bynum are getting such minimal support from their aging set of role players – the team may have trouble doing any significant damage in the playoffs.
Tinkering may help and the Lakers have looked at their options with first-round picks and their trade exception as bait ($8.9 million).
Cleveland’s Ramon Sessions would help but help enough? Johnny Flynn?
“I don’t want to play for anybody until I’m finished rehabbing and finished doing what I need to do,” said Arenas. “So that’s not going to happen until at least All-Star break.”
The Lakers are facing increased restrictions and penalties under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement – the harsher supertax begins in 2013 when Bryant is due $30.5 million and Gasol $19.3 million.
If the team reinvests in Andrew Bynum (as expected) or even swaps him out for Dwight Howard (less likely but still among the many possibilities), that’s going to be another $17-$20 million.
The economics of the NBA and the Buss family, who don’t have the same deep pockets as a Mark Cuban, dictate a change.
Then again, with the Time Warner Cable contract starting up next season, the franchise will earn a significant boost in revenue.
In truth, ownership has lost faith in the current core, illustrated by their removal of all-things Phil Jackson, Lamar Odom and their current shopping of Gasol.
Pau is 31 years old and represents the clearest path to bringing in younger talent and depth – ideally at point guard, possibly a small forward. Naturally the team would need a replacement power forward in his absence, preferably a mobile stretch four who complements the low post game of Bynum.
The hope is to bring in an established talent like a Rajon Rondo, Steph Curry or even Houston’s Kyle Lowry. It’s unclear what path the Boston Celtics will take but they do not intend to build around Rondo and have solicited offers for him dating back to the summer.
Curry doesn’t appear to be available but the future in Golden State is also hazy, given the team’s inability to land an impact free agent this past offseason and their 12-17 record.
Perhaps if they can get up to .500, the Warriors hold firm. If they stumble instead?
As previously reported by HOOPSWORLD, the Rockets appear dedicated to keeping Lowry under contract.
The Lakers are also willing to wait patiently through this season if the impact offer doesn’t come for Gasol. This is the most likely of paths as the team will certainly have options around the draft when franchises are often more willing to do major roster overhauling, as opposed to midstream at the March 15th trade deadline.
If that’s the case, smaller moves remain a possibility.
Both Chris Broussard and Chris Tomasson have linked the Lakers to Minnesota, but then HOOPSWORLD has been tracking that conversation dating back to the NBA Draft in June when the Wolves tried to acquire Gasol for the second pick.
The Lakers wanted Kevin Love and he remains well out of reach. Broussard reports the Lakers have eyes on Michael Beasley. Tomasson recently wrote the interest was in Derrick Williams.
While LA would certainly have interest in either or both as a cheaper replacements for Gasol, making a deal with the Wolves could be difficult.
Minnesota doesn’t have enough at the point to appease the Lakers. Sources say the Lakers won’t send Gasol to the Wolves if Ricky Rubio and Love are off limits. That’s not changing for the Wolves so it would probably take a multi-team trade for something to develop.
The Wolves would like Gasol but the emergence of Nikola Pekovic as a force next Love diminishes any true urgency. Minnesota would like to cash out some of their assets to improve, but the Lakers don’t have enough to offer outside of Pau. The trade exception, a pick and/or Josh McRoberts is just not appealing enough to the Wolves at this time.
Unless the Celtics opt to deal Rondo to the Lakers, LA may not find a two-team deal worth doing this season. Both the Wolves and Rockets would be capable partners if the Lakers can fashion a multi-team trade.
The other option might be the Warriors but sources say the Lakers are far more interested in Curry than Monta Ellis. Golden State is also attached to forward David Lee.
The Lakers aren’t likely to find a Curry/Lee package in their reach given a Curry deal in and of itself may be a stretch.
Peter Vecsey of the New York Post suggests the Lakers and New York Knicks should discuss a Carmelo Anthony for Gasol swap but so far there’s no sense if either team would consider that seriously.
The Lakers were curious when Anthony was being offered about by the Denver Nuggets but never got actively involved. The team needs another dependable scorer and Carmelo is certainly an intriguing player.
He’s also set to earn about $21 million a year over the next three seasons. That in and of itself may not appeal to LA . . .
Whatever the outcome, the Lakers are a team in transition. They’ll be good enough this year to make the playoffs but a lengthy run may be difficult, even if Kupchak is able to add a minor piece or two.
As much as the Lakers’ GM might like to shut down the rumors, he’s not going to pretend the team isn’t looking for change . . .
Blazers Looking at What Might Have Been
When the Portland Trail Blazers won the number one pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, small forward Kevin Durant was just a brief consideration. The clear and obvious . . . and ultimately regrettable choice for the team was center Greg Oden.
Even in his brief glimpses on the court, Oden was a defensive force. A legitimate 7’0″ with strength and smarts, Greg was supposed to be a taller Bill Russell.
Sadly injuries have derailed his career, with Monday’s announcement that Oden had undergone a third microfracture knee surgery just another enormous setback to a player who has played in just 82 games dating back to his initial signing in 2007.
“[It's] very sad for Greg not having the opportunity once again to get out on the floor this season,” said Coach Nate McMillan. “I was told that they were basically going to go in and clean his knee. Anytime you go in like that you’re looking to see if something else needs to be repaired. So you get the call that it’s another microfracture surgery . . . it’s one of those ‘Why me?’ moments. I know he’s saying that. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to him but it’s really sad that I won’t have the opportunity to work with him this year and this kid won’t have the opportunity to play.”
The Blazers had one of the most exciting cores in the NBA just a few years ago. Oden isn’t the only Portland franchise-type player to surrender to serious knee problems.
“When I signed my extension, part of that extension or part of the reason I really wanted to come back was to have that opportunity to see these guys on the floor together: Brandon Roy, Greg and LaMarcus Aldridge,” said McMillan. “The memory that really sticks out is the first time that I had those guys over my house for dinner. I’m sitting there looking at these three and just thinking and talking to them about the future and their opportunity. I was thinking that we have a great opportunity here to build something special. I’ve got Brandon and LaMarcus and Greg sitting at my table and we haven’t had the opportunity to see those three and won’t now with Brandon retiring and Greg being out again this year. We won’t have the opportunity to see those guys.”
With Roy already out of the league, Oden may not be far behind him. There’s no word yet if Greg will retire or try to push through yet another rehab.
Instead McMillan has done his best to work with what’s left on his roster each year, despite injuries. One year even Nate blew out his Achilles’ coaching the team.
For the most part the Blazers have over-performed despite the harsh realities they’ve been forced to face. Long-term playoff success has escaped them and this year’s squad is now just 17-16, stumbling into the All-Star break.
Almost every team who deals Andre Miller away ends up regretting it (the Los Angeles Clippers are the exception) and replacement Raymond Felton has truly struggled.
Free agent signing Jamal Crawford has provided bench scoring but is shooting just 38.7% from the field.
The bright spot has been the play of Aldridge who shook off an ankle injury and should be ready to play this weekend in his first All-Star appearance.
Still, it hasn’t been enough and after a dreadful seven-point first quarter in Los Angeles against the Lakers, McMillan fumed that his team “didn’t come here ready to play” and that the team has “a lot of work to do.”
Almost dancing and fidgeting as he talked to the media, it appeared Nate did everything in his power to hold back his temper.
All-Star Weekend couldn’t come any sooner for the Blazers.
Meanwhile McMillan and the Blazers will stand by Oden as best they can through his recovery.
“He’s still our guy, on our roster and we’re going to support him and try and get him through the remainder of the season,” said McMillan. “Sometimes in life, things like that happen. You wonder why it’s happening to you or to that particular person. I’m sitting here asking the same thing.”
Nate still doesn’t quite have the answer as to why his team his struggling but he’ll keep searching for the answers.
“What we’re working on, is being consistent. It’s been a challenge for us and it’s hard to put a finger on why,” admitted McMillan. “Is it the number of games? Is it mental fatigue? Is it physical? Is it travel? We’ve gone through some of the same challenges that I think the Lakers are going through. Whether they’re playing well at home but on the road they’re not playing well. It is a challenge to be consistent in this league.”
The Blazers host the San Antonio Spurs tonight followed by a needed break until next Wednesday when they visit the Denver Nuggets.
Hawks Trying to Hang On
The Atlanta Hawks lost All-Star center Al Horford for the season to a shoulder injury and yet they’ve managed to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference.
Eventually the team was going to feel it and through February the Hawks are just 3-7.
At 19-13, Atlanta isn’t quite in the same group as the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT. Now they’re slowly being eclipsed by the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.
The Hawks are a team that needs to maintain home court advantage for at least one round of the playoffs but at the current rate, they may find that to be a difficult task.
Naturally when losses start to pile up, the players start to question the coaching staff and their rotations (recently both Tracy McGrady and Marvin Williams have expressed their concerns).
Coach Larry Drew recently spoke to HOOPSWORLD about how he’s managed to keep his team together thus far, given the difficult circumstances of the schedule and the loss of Horford.
“Obviously losing Al was a huge blow to us. Anytime you lose an All-Star or All Pro you lose what he brings on the floor but it’s what he brings in that locker room that a lot of people don’t know about,” said Drew. “With the makeup of our team, he was just a huge piece of the puzzle. In losing him as I told the guys, we can take this one of two ways. We can feel sorry for ourselves or we can march on and through the course of a season.”
Reserve center Jason Collins has also been out with an elbow injury, but Zaza Pachulia has been respectable as a big body for the Hawks.
“[Zaza] has certainly stepped up moving into the starter’s position. I think both Josh Smith and Joe Johnson have elevated their games as well. Jeff Teague has done a really solid job,” said Drew. “We’re fortunate to get Kirk Hinrich back. Last year he was a starter for us and now he’s coming off the bench for us. He gives us a little juice coming off the bench. Jannero Pargo has played well, Willie Green has played well and Tracy McGrady has done a really good job.”
The Hawks anticipated a challenging year with the lockout-shortened season leading to a much heavier weekly schedule. Their answer was to try and load up with depth.
“That’s why we choose the route of bringing in so many other veterans guys. We knew with the schedule that I was going to have to go deep on that bench. Given what the schedule is I knew with the traveling that we were going to need a lot of bodies,” said the Hawks coach. “With this schedule you can’t just play seven or eight guys. It’s just too tough.”
The Hawks have one All-Star in Joe Johnson. Smith was an obvious snub despite his well-rounded stats (16 points a game, 9.6 boards, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.1 blocks).
Johnson was sidelined during the team’s loss on Monday against the Bulls with knee tendinitis and is doubtful for Wednesday’s game against the New York Knicks. He may sit out the All-Star Game as well this weekend.
It’s going to be difficult for Atlanta to have major success this year without Horford and if Johnson’s knee is of any true concern, the Hawks could be in serious trouble.
Meanwhile Drew is looking for energy from his team on a nightly basis.
“We feel we can score points but we get in a tendency where we’re not as good defensively at times. We have to get more consistent in that area,” said Larry. “The other thing with us is just our energy. If we come out playing with the energy we are a team that you can see are totally different then we are when we come out playing lethargic and lackadaisical. We’re a team that thrives off of energy. If we play with energy we’re pretty good.”
One positive note for Atlanta, they’ve already played 18 games on the road. Ten of the team’s final 15 games will be at Phillips Arena which should lead to a strong finish leading into a playoff run.
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