It was a normal Saturday morning in our household. I came downstairs gingerly after a few too many Winnies the night before and plonked myself on the couch next to my housemate who was flicking through the usual Saturday morning Foxtel garbage. We stopped on ESPN hoping to find some live NBA, joking that we might get to see the Miami Heat play again (happens about once per week). It was a Sportscentre newsflash, and I wasn’t really concentrating. But then I saw the headline at the bottom of the screen: “Gasol to the Lakers”. My exact words were “what the f–k!” as a million thoughts raged through my clouded brain. Here are just a few of those million:
Thought #1: The Lakers finally pulled a trade to surround Kobe with some decent talent. Kobe Bryant, playing alongside a veteran All-Star calibre big man who can score, rebound and defend – history tells us that usually equates to championships.
Thought #2: The Lakers probably disrupted their entire playing list to pull off this trade and may have stupidly sent themselves backwards… did they lose Odom? Have Walton and Ariza been sent packing? Or *gasp*… did they trade Andrew Bynum? ESPN went back to showing a panel of three guys shouting about the Superbowl so I had to run to my computer to get the trade details. The Lakers got Pau Gasol and traded away… nothing..
Thought #4: It’s the KG-Boston scenario all over again. A former club great (McHale, West) now wearing a suit for another ball club (Timberwolves, Grizzlies) helping out their former buddies (Ainge, Kupchak) to surround their teams stars (Pierce/Allen, Kobe) with another star (KG, Gasol) at the expense of suspiciously little (eight players, Kwame Brown and some picks). I don’t know if there’s an official name for this type of trade, but I like ”Wingman Trade” cos it seems like one party completely screws itself over for the benefit of his buddy who gets to go off and have all the fun. Hopefully NBA Live 2009 will feature Wingman Trades to reward your past loyalties and help you overcome those ridiculous trade propositions that get rejected – I can’t wait for that Eddy Curry to Detroit for Primo Brezec trade to go down.
Thought #7: So… the Lakers still have Odom, Bynum, Kobe and all their bench. And they get Pau Gasol. This can’t be right, maybe I drank far more Winnies than I thought…
Thought #11: The Memphis Grizzlies now have Kwame Brown. Maybe this is his chance to finally bust out, away from the glamour and glitz of the Hollywood spotlight, the huge expectations on his shoulders now gone, a demanding superstar teammate like Kobe now out of his sight… Maybe this is the perfect situation for Kwame and he can finally live up to his #1 draft pick expectations? Maybe he’ll finally be the 20-10 guy he was always hyped up to be? YEP! I’ve definitely lost my mind!
Thought #21: I have to put money on the Lakers to win the title… now. I already thought they were title-contendors with a healthy Bynum. Now they add Pau Gasol and actually get rid of the one liability they had on their bench in Kwame. This is ridiculous. A quick look at Sportsbet showed the Lakers at $13.00 to win the title, only behind the Celtics, Spurs, Suns, Mavs and Pistons. That $13.00 will drop to less than $8.00 once the Lakers put together their next decent win streak, you watch. And no I do not spend all my time drinking and gambling.
Thought #35: Are there enough shots to go around now? Kobe seemed to adjust just fine when Bynum was going for 20 points a night. But throw Pau into the mix and I’m just now sure how everything is going to reach equilibrium. Looking at Bynum’s field goal percentage (#1 in the league) you’d have to say he needs to keep taking his shots, and Kobe being Kobe needs to have a certain amount of the ball. How does Gasol adjust from going from ‘The Man’ in Memphis to third banana in LA? A quick look at the stats showed me he only took about 15 shots a game in Memphis, which seems ridiculous considering the “offense” they have. I’m sure Phil Jackson can figure out a way to squeeze those 15 shots into the Lakers game plan. My guess is that you’ll see less of Lamar shooting and more of Lamar passing, and Kobe’s attempts will dip a little too. Which doesn’t mean Kobe’s scoring output will drop – it will probably stay the same thanks to the better shots he should be taking with Gasol on the floor. Interesting fact: Kobe has been shooting above 50% from the field over his last ten games.
Thought #63: Does Lamar Odom become redundant now? With two seven footers in Gasol and Bynum, Odom’s rebounding ability kinda becomes less of a key for the Lakers. His ball-handling and passing skills are still required, no doubt, but can’t you also get those skills from a point guard? Maybe, a point guard name Jason Kidd? The Lakers could have D-Fish coming off the bench (which he’s probably better suited to anyway at this point in his career), Walton can start the three-spot (or you bring in Ariza for him and Kobe to share the 2-3 spot), while Gasol and Bynum give you all the inside presense you need at both ends of the floor, the “Twin Towers” effect as Phil Jackson put it. Is this whole Gasol trade a mere stepping stone towards a bigger trade? Kidd, Kobe, Gasol and Bynum – it would be like the Payton/Malone experiment in 03-04 all over again, except this time the point guard and power forward wouldn’t be a combined 84 years of age.
Thought #112: Do the Lakers now have what it takes to beat out the Spurs/Suns/Mavs out West? In a word yes. Three weeks ago with Bynum playing out of his mind, I already thought the Lakers could handle the Suns in a seven game series, and probably the Mavs too. I wasn’t convinced about the Spurs because I know they play at enother level come May, but with Gasol in the mix it changes everything. The Spurs like to grind teams down – hell, they can even make the Phoenix Suns play dirty, half-court basketball. When they try and do that against the Lakers they will hit a road block because suddenly, the Lakers not only match them on the inside, but have them thoroughly outclassed. Duncan will have to honour Gasol’s mid-range jumpshot – and Gasol will defenitely spend a lot of time 10-15 feet from the basket once Bynum comes back. This leaves the rebounding battle to Bynum and Oberto, and right now I’d take Bynum in a rebounding battle over any one not named Howard, Camby or Chandler. The bottom line is that few teams have the size to handle Gasol and Bynum – they really are the new Twin Towers. The only difference between this version and previous versions (Hakeem/Sampson, Robinson/Duncan) is that the Lakers also have a guy named Kobe Bryant on the perimeter, and he’s quite good.
Thought #550: Pau Gasol is actually a cave man.
Thought #756: Is it possible we could end up seeing a Celtics v Lakers Final? While seeing my Pistons knocked out of the playoff race will no doubt leave me emotionally scarred again (hey, I’ve been getting used to it the past few years), the prospect of seeing this rivalry reborn is a mouth watering one. I’m not getting caught up in nostalgia here. This is not a “oh wouldn’t it be nice” hypothetical situation. This is probably going to happen.
Thought #757: If Lakers v Celtics doesn’t happen then its a pretty good chance Lakers v Cavs could. That would be like MJ vs Magic in ‘91 all over again. Except this time the new kid on the block is a Magic-like 6′8″ phenom challenging the cagey veteran champion who is the closest thing to Jordan we’ll ever see. Ok so it’s not really like MJ vs Magic in ‘91 at all. But you name me ONE person who wouldn’t want to see Lebron v Kobe in the Finals and I’ll personally drive over to their house and punch them in the face (although I just asked my house mate what would be better than seeing a Lebron v Kobe Final, and his response “seeing Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel *** them ***** ***” might be the only thing that tops it)
Thought #1020: Do the two future first round picks, in 2008 and 2010, mortgage away any future chance the Lakers had of adding new talent? Probably, but it doesn’t matter. The Lakers are geared for winning titles in the next five years. Kobe is only 28, and lets not forget MJ was winning titles well into his mid-thirties. I would argue Kobe is even better suited at playing into his mid-thirties because he is a better shooter, and when Bynum is attracting all sorts of Shaq-like attention down low, Kobe can spot up on the perimetre and drain threes like an old Michael Finley or Eddie Jones (you may be as surprised as I was to learn Eddie Jones is sixth all-time in three pointers made). The way I see it, Kobe has 3-5 years left playing at an MVP calibre, while Gasol similarly has 3-5 years left in his prime, and in 5-10 years time Bynum will be The Man. Their supporting cast of Vujacic, Walton, Farmar and Ariza is young, so draft picks in the next couple of seasons aren’t really what the Lakers are looking for. They’ve pulled off a trade that simultaneously gives them a shot of winning a title now and for the next five years – something even the Celtics would be jealous of.
Thought #1561: The Grizzlies are happy that they have cap space and plenty of cash. Fantastic. Maybe their fans can rock up to home games content that they have lots of cap space and not care about their crappy team. Maybe they won’t boo Kwame when he blows every open dunk because he’s the one who’s single-handedly saved them from salary-cap doom. Maybe they’ll hold up signs saying “Thanks Kwame!” or “We’re 24 games below .500 but $3,500,000 below the cap!”. Maybe the Grizzlies GM read a little too much into the old saying “can’t buy a bucket” and after watching his team fail time and time again to hit open shots, he mistakenly thought he could actually “buy a bucket” so he went and dealt Gasol for Kwame. I don’t know. Cap space does not equate directly into future success, and I really struggle to believe this is the best deal they could have got for Gasol. John Paxson must be going quietly insane after what he tried to offer the Grizz for Gasol last year – apparently all you needed John was an overpaid retarded power forward. I can’t explain it. It is a mystery, like cranes, only more mysterious.
Thought #3551: It’s funny how things change in this crazy world of the NBA. Barely four months ago Kobe ripping on his team mates and the entire Lakers organisation, and demanding to be traded. Fast forward two months and the Lakers are the hottest team in the league, Kobe is looking like an MVP, Bynum is looking like the next Kareem, and the word “championship” starts getting thrown around. Fast forward another month and Bynum has gone down with an injury, out for eight weeks though some have suspected the entire season. The Lakers hopes of finishing top 4 in the West in tatters, the nightmare of last season seemingly returning. Fast forward a few weeks and Pau Gasol is wearing a Lakers uniform and anything less than a Finals appearance would probably be marked a failure. Crazy how it turned out.
Make no mistake folks, this trade is going to change the face of the league. Kobe now has a team he can take to the Finals in the post-Shaq era. Part of me is happy that the later years of the career of one of the games greatest ever talents will not be spent fighting the uphill battle of trying to carry an average team to above-average heights. He now has a great team, and all that’s left to do, in Bryant’s own words, is to “walk the walk”. That will be a journey Lakers fan’s watch with great anticipation, and one that Grizzlies fans can watch safely knowing they have lots of cash.