The Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest trade of the NBA's offseason but, after it backfired on them, they're one of the team's looking to drastically change things as the NBA trade deadline approaches.
The Lakers have long been rumored to be interested in trading Pau Gasol, as he never really meshed with Mike D'Antoni, but with a career-worst year now on hold as he recovers from a plantar fascia injury, it's not clear what they can expect in return for the big Spaniard. As many of the Lakers' problems seem to start and stop with the guy they traded for this offseason -- Dwight Howard -- his name is coming up in trade talks as well.
The Lakers' outlook
This season has been an unmitigated disaster for Los Angeles. The problem wasn't Mike Brown, who was fired just five games into the season. It wasn't an injury to Steve Nash, who has missed 24 games, as the team has been just as mediocre with him in the lineup as without. It wasn't growing pains, as they're still out of the playoff race more than halfway into the year.
So the Lakers are flawed. Right now, they're 25-29, 3.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. That's attainable, but they have to act now to reconfigure the team in order to start winning and make a late run. But more important than scrounging for a likely first-round playoff exit this year is the future of the franchise. This current team isn't going to contend for a championship -- they're barely even contending to be .500 -- and they need to figure out a better configuration of players to set themselves up going forward. Kobe Bryant is 34, and he won't play forever. One would imagine this team wants to win another title before it's his time to hang it up, and this group isn't going to do it.
Mitch Kupchak said the team likely wouldn't trade Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol before the deadline, but there's been a lot of buzz around both players and the general manager did have a meeting with Mike D'Antoni to discuss personnel with the deadline coming up. It's tough to imagine no discussions are taking place. That said, it's worth noting that both trades would be logistically difficult -- each player has a huge contract, so they'd have to take on some big pieces in return.
As Drew Garrison of Silver Screen and Roll wrote, Pau Gasol has had a nightmare season. His statistics are down, and he's clashed with Mike D'Antoni over how he should be used. D'Antoni likes to play with four players on the perimeter and, for the Lakers, the one guy inside is now Dwight Howard, leaving a talented post player in Gasol somewhat useless. As such, he's been popping up in various trade rumors since December and, although there was some dissension, more Lakers bloggers than not think it's time for Gasol to be dealt.
Gasol said he wouldn't ask for a trade this year but would not rule out asking for a trade in the offseason. His name has fallen out of rumors since a plantar fascia injury that will keep him out for another month at the last, but it's not hard to imagine the team still dealing Gasol. Despite career lows in several categories, he's still an extremely skilled 7-footer, and those aren't easy to come by.
The Lakers are stuck in the same situation the Orlando Magic were in last year: wondering whether Dwight Howard will re-sign when his contract ends at the end of this season. If he does, they'll have a physical specimen of a center who has looked a step slow on defense in Los Angeles. If he doesn't, they'll be letting one of the best centers in the NBA walk for nothing.
It's a matter they can take into their own hands by trading him. There have been rumors, the most intriguing of which featured Howard going to the Boston Celtics in return for Rajon Rondo. However, Kupchak was very insistent that no such talks ever happened. Rondo is out for the year with an ACL injury, so this move would be just for the future of the franchise. Rondo's another franchise-type player who would be hypothetically fearsome alongside Kobe with the potential to keep the team in contention after Bryant's retirement.
For what it's worth, Kobe Bryant has heard about the Dwight Howard trade rumors, and apparently doesn't care, which probably isn't a good sign in a relationship between two superstars that has been modestly contentious.
Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that the Lakers were very interested in bringing in Raja Bell, something he'd previously reported in November. Bell is a great shooter and was a key component of the Phoenix Suns teams that featured D'Antoni and Nash. He hasn't played this year for the Utah Jazz, with whom he's under contract.
What's the gist
It's perfectly probable that the Los Angeles Lakers will stare down the trade deadline and come out without getting rid of either of the two problematic big men. After all, Kupchak has been quite clear to the media that neither player will be dealt. That said, there's a chance they choose to move one of their supposed superstars to give themselves a shot at salvaging this year and helping the future of the team. If they choose not to, they'll be gambling that something that has been a decisive failure in 2012-2013 will somehow work itself out later.