NBA PM: Rondo for Gasol a Possibility?
The Los Angeles Lakers lost their second-straight game on Monday night, a late collapse to the Philadelphia 76ers, to drop to 14-11 on the season.
Los Angeles is in the middle of a difficult six-game road trip with stops ahead in Boston, New York and Toronto. While they’re an impressive 11-2 at home, 3-9 away is an issue. The Lakers are just not a good team outside of STAPLES Center.
What’s the solution? Will the return of Steve Blake (rib injury) make the difference? Would a small move catapult the Lakers back to elite status? Is there a big play to make?
General manager Mitch Kupchak may have inadvertently leaked one target to reporter Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.
To the question, what would he like to address before the trade deadline (March 15th), Kupchak answered:
“Well, if there were a way for us to get a 25-year-old, All-Star, ball-handling guard we’d love to do it … but that’s not likely in February. So you look at other alternatives, and see if it’s better than what you have. That’s all.”
First, a tiny bit of background. Kupchak has a history of being somewhat of a “literal” speaker. He’s not the kind of GM who will flat out lie to media, but rather chose not to answer the question directly or indirectly.
You might call that a “tell.”
One example would be Kupchak mentioning at a season ticket holder event (prior to drafting Andrew Bynum) that there was a high school kid he’d hate to see on another team. Later, he made a similar comment about a 17-year old.
Bynum at the time was the only 17-year-old, high school kid in that class. Kupchak all but spelled it out before the Lakers took him in 2005 NBA Draft.
Applying that logic to the Trudell quote, there is exactly one 25-year-old, All-Star, ball-handling guard in the league.
Note: “ball-handling guard” is triangle-speak for a point guard.
Additionally, sources have told HOOSPWORLD that the Boston Celtics do have interest in Gasol for their All-Star point guard.
The Celtics have the potential for sizable cap room this summer but there is no true sense that Dwight Howard or Deron Williams would be within their reach.
The list of options after the top two stars is not especially impressive. The Celtics have almost no one inside to play next to Kevin Garnett, who is in the last year of his contract.
Jermaine O’Neal still starts for the team but is not exactly high impact and might be the salary ballast to make a Laker/Celtics trade possible. To be fair, Brandon Bass has had a solid year as a Celtic, but Boston is looking for a more significant inside player.
Gasol has two years on his deal after this season which happens to line up when Paul Pierce’s is set to expire.
The Celtics have shopped Rondo on a number of occasions. For a number of reasons, sources say Boston does not intend to rebuild their roster around Rondo.
The drop off from Rajon to second-year player Avery Bradley (a capable defender but not as experienced as a playmaker) may not be as significant to the Celtics as the void in the middle that Gasol would fill.
Boston could consider bringing back veterans Ray Allen and Garnett, while using their remaining spending power to improve at the point. Alternatively, they could renounce the rights to their free agents and come up with at least $11 million in cap space.
But would the rivals swap All-Stars? The two teams have dealt in the past, notably the Gary Payton/Rick Fox/Chris Mihm/Chucky Atkins/etc. trade in 2004.
Would the Lakers go big for small? Didn’t they try to go two bigs for small in December?
Taking Kupchak at his word above, “We’d love to do it.”
When the Lakers parted ways with Phil Jackson, instead of striving for continuity, the organization went in the opposite direction, cutting ties with the coaches, training staff (except institution Gary Vitti) and even Assistant General Manager Ronnie Lester.
If the team truly believed that the postseason letdown against the Dallas Mavericks was based on the fatigue of three-straight trips to the Finals, the Lakers would have hired Brian Shaw to follow Jackson and kept the same roster with some minor improvements.
That didn’t happen. The team decided it was time to rebuild, offering Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for Chris Paul. When the deal was scuttled by the league, LA furthered their move against continuity by dealing Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for an $8.9 million trade exception (and first-round draft pick, top-20 protected for many years).
The team remains fully committed to Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, although there’s no denying interest in Dwight Howard.
The Lakers are deficient at small forward this season but they are loaded with bodies and the three is arguably the easiest position to fill.
If there was a true building-block point guard available for the Odom exception, the Lakers would naturally have interest but the market instead appears to be Ramon Sessions, a steady, solid point guard who doesn’t shoot particularly well (especially from three).
While the same can be said of Rondo’s outside shot, the difference between the two as impact players is significant.
Other options at guard include Gilbert Arenas, Johnny Flynn and Kirk Hinrich . . . among others. None are big enough upgrades for the Lakers to make until they give up on bigger and better options.
When it comes to trade assets, if Bynum isn’t on the table, Gasol may be the team’s only path to solving the gaping need at point guard.
In the Trudell article, Kupchak acknowledges the obvious, “You could say to yourself the area where we’re lacking the most is in the backcourt.”
The trade exception and a first-round pick may bring back enough to improve the squad but to put the Lakers back in elite company? Unlikely.
Additionally, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is more restrictive to big spenders than the prior deal. Gasol at about $19 million almost has to go if he’s the third to Bryant/Bynum.
The Lakers won titles with Bynum as a distant fourth to Bryant, Gasol and Odom. The combination of Bynum and Gasol has always had its deficiencies, despite the height advantage. Those flaws are on full display and as Pau ages further, may never improve.
According to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, Gasol admitted Monday that the team may opt to make changes if the current road trip does not improve.
“That might occur, regardless,” Gasol said. “I don’t know. It’s totally out of my power. But there’s always a sense that if something was going to happen before, something might still happen until probably we get to the (trade) deadline. We won’t know for sure. We’ve just got to try to forget about that, put that aside, and try to continue to play as well as we can without being affected by any of that.”
Of course if Kupchak is to be taken literally, he did say in the earlier quote, “That’s not likely in February.”
The Lakers may covet Rondo. The Celtics may be interested in Gasol, but the league in general is still feeling out what’s to come.
March 1st is significant because players who were signed to contracts over the summer are finally eligible to be traded. In the context of the Lakers/Celtics, perhaps Kupchak has designs on Bass instead of O’Neal as filler. The Lakers would have Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts along with the big coming back from Boston (and the Odom trade exception to add to the mix).
Perhaps the Orlando Magic opt to deal Dwight Howard . . .
There’s a rush to improve but how many deals league-wide have gone through recently? In about three weeks, look for that to change.
As broken down by HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler and Alex Kennedy, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant may not be fully seeing eye-to-eye on what it would mean to team up in Los Angeles with the Lakers.
To date, Howard’s representation has been granted permission to talk with the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers in regards to a trade. That list hasn’t changed.
For many reasons, Howard may prefer New Jersey.
That said, both the Nets and Mavericks may not be able to come up with a suitable trade package for the Magic to inspire a deal before the deadline.
The Lakers, if they include Andrew Bynum, may have more of a chance but equally Orlando may wait out Howard and try to either keep him over the summer or flip him via sign and trade.
The future is not yet written. The Howard/Bryant “rift” may be true or false (for what it’s worth, a source out of Los Angeles says it never happened) but the reality vs. perception in the end may not matter one iota.
Each and every party has an idea of what they would like to do but it’s a reactive business and the final outcome will be determined by a number of factors that haven’t been conceived yet (for example the randomness of the Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks injuries).
J.R. Smith Looking for a Big Contract
It’s unclear exactly when free agent guard J.R. Smith will be free of his obligations in China. He could end up available as early as mid-February or well into March depending on the Zhejiang Golden Bulls playoff seeding/performance.
Smith has been linked to both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers but both may be long-shots. Neither has more than the veteran’s minimum to spend ($1.07 million in the case of Smith) and J.R. is looking to be compensated.
The New York Knicks are also rumored to be a suitor, armed with the more lucrative Room Exception at $2.5 million (both numbers are technically prorated because of the lockout).
Multiple sources say Smith is looking for the opportunity to showcase his talents and while the Knicks certainly need help at guard, J.R. has already had a stint with Carmelo Anthony. That may not be as appealing to Smith as some might think.
A more appealing option might be the Minnesota Timberwolves who have their $2.5 million, are suddenly a .500 team and have a true need at the two long-term. Coach Rick Adelman has a tremendous reputation for bringing out the best in players who have had difficulty adjusting to the NBA (Metta World Peace nee Ron Artest).
It’s also unclear where Indiana will spend their money but at $2.7 million under the salary floor (and $14 million below the salary cap), they’re going to be cutting a check to the league after the season if they don’t bring on some payroll. A source indicates that Indiana would probably look elsewhere.
UPDATE: James Posey’s amnestied salary counts towards the Pacers’ minimum salary so they are sufficiently over the cap floor.
Additionally, Smith wants to be a primary option offensively. He’s not going to get that on the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or Pacers.
The Chicago Bulls have their Bi-Annual Exception at $1.9 million but role for Smith would probably be an issue for J.R. Additionally, a source said Chicago is undecided on whether or not Smith would be the right move for the organization.
The Clippers may have a bigger role at two-guard with Chauncey Billups suffering an Achilles’ injury, but even then Smith would not necessarily be a primary scorer for the team.
The Wolves may be the best overall option for Smith if money and showcase are the priority.
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