Where to, Pau Gasol?
February 1, 2008 12:49 PM
Pau Gasol is something of a mystery.
He's a former All-Star and a World Champion. He's the engine of one of the best national teams in recent memory. He is beloved by many of his teammates, and revered by his countrymen. Even in Memphis he's a proven scorer in the post, off the dribble, jump shooting, and finishing every which way around the hoop. Remember when he younger and was an easy pick for rookie of the year?
He has been a winner. And he's only 27 now, an age when most big men are reaching their peak.
Despite battling various injuries, Gasol has always put up good numbers. At thePau Gasol moment he's in the NBA's top 30 overall in terms of PER, ahead of Josh Howard, Josh Smith, Shawn Marion, Richard Hamilton, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Roy, and others.
But in Memphis it just has not been working. Not even Jerry West could figure out exactly why the Grizzlies aren't winning with Gasol.
In the meantime, the Grizzlies are a team that needs to watch its pennies, and Gasols do not come cheap. His contract -- by far the biggest on the Memphis books -- calls for big money all the way into 2011.
So it's no wonder that Pau Gasol's name is in almost every trade rumor. (It's a minor miracle his name wasn't part of that Kidd-to-Dallas package we have been discussing.)
Memphis would presumably like the best thing a rebuilding team could possibly have: a young superstar. But they're not going to get that. The next best thing is an expiring contract, which could come with the future cap room, and more touches for Rudy Gay to continue his development. (And teams always ask for cheap young talent and draft picks.) But the expiring contract is the key.
And who would be buying an expensive player who sometimes plays like a champion? A deep-pocketed team that feels ready to win a championship, and has a nice expiring contract or two.
The Bulls really need scoring in the paint, and they have been connected to Gasol in about a milllion trade rumor stories.
I have another idea for you: how about the Los Angeles Lakers?
They could do something that almost no other team in the league could do: make Memphis the major player in next summer's free agent party. (Seattle, Minnesota, and Washington have the expiring contracts, but aren't likely to want to pay Gasol.)
Kwame Brown's large expiring contract is the key, and only needs to be partnered with something reasonable, for instance Sasha Vujacic (expiring contract) and Coby Karl to make the trade work under salary cap rules.
If Memphis did such a deal, they would almost certainly have the most cap room in the league this summer. Exactly how much they'll have is unknowable without seeing what happens with Damon Stoudamire -- who will get Memphis some more cap relief -- and knowing where they will end up in the draft, which determines how much they'll be paying a rookie.
I hear you Memphis fans, you don't really feel like giving away your Pau Gasol in a salary dump. But remember, this is a special summer for free agents. There is an attractive crop of players, but more importantly there are very few teams with the cap space to join the bidding. It will be a buyer's market. And Memphis can offer guys like Antawn Jamison and Elton Brand the chance to play alongside star-in-the-making Rudy Gay, as well as Mike Conley, Mike Miller, etc.
Maybe Memphis has better offers cooking. But do any of them even put them in the running for the likes of Elton Brand or Antawn Jamison? As a very crude measure of Gasol's trade value, there was a report recently that the Bulls refused to include Andres Nocioni in a deal for Gasol.
And think about it from the Lakers' point of view. They are adding a top player to a top team, at a time when the pressure is on to win now. Will it work? This is where the triangle offense of the Lakers becomes a beautiful thing. As Kurt Rambis explained the other day, a key element of the triangle is that, thanks to spacing, movement, and observation, every Laker should be eligible to receive a pass at all times.
That lets the offense quickly identify and attack weak spots in the defense, wherever they may be. And a mobile seven-footer who can turn just about any defensive mistake into a bucket would be an attractive option to mix in with Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum. As the ball moves around that offense there are an infinite number of ways the Lakers might end up with a good shot.
While Andrew Bynum is out, Gasol becomes the go-to big man, who might keep the team afloat in the tough Western standings. When Bynum returns, the triangle and all the attention defenses pay to Kobe Bryant just might keep the Lakers from the Zach Randolph/Eddy Curry double post conundrum. One of them would have a makeable shot every time down the floor. A system with actual ball movement (as distinct from New York) might help the scorers actually get the ball when and where they can use it.
This move would also leave the Lakers fat with roster assets -- Gasol, Odom, etc. -- that could be part of a Jason Kidd deal, if the Lakers really are, as rumored, interested in pursuing him. (I am hereby congratulating myself for managing to get Gasol and Kidd into the same trade rumor.)
Will it happen? Who knows. But it makes a lot of sense to me.