In the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ ouster from the playoffs, fans of all allegiances are calling for the Lakers to shake up their roster if they want to compete for a title any time soon. Naturally, the first name to be mentioned is Pau Gasol. As important as Gasol was for this organization in bringing two titles to LA, he has struggled mightily in the past two postseasons (13.1 points per game on 42.0% shooting and 7.8 boards in 2010-2011 and 12.5 points on 43.4% shooting this year). The Lakers are a team that desperately needs multiple consistent contributors to add depth to a roster than saw their bench score a meager five points in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. So if the Lakers choose to deal Gasol, where might he go and what might a potential deal look like? Here are six teams that would most likely entertain the thought of adding Pau for the 2012-2013 campaign, in order of least to most likely:
6. NEW YORK KNICKS
How it could happen: The question really becomes: how desperate are the Lakers for change? If down the road they are in fact reeling after being ousted in the second round, losing GM Mitch Kupchak, and looking like a team without a plan, the New York Knicks may sneak into this conversation. Why? Two words: Amare Stoudemire. Again, this is highly unlikely, but New York may, in Stoudemire, be able to offer a star who could use a change of scenery to resurrect his career as much as Gasol does. Rather than adding more depth to their bench, the Knicks could potentially send star power in return, something that few other teams can offer. The risks are obvious here, but gambling that Amare may bounce back to his 2010-2011 levels (25.3 points per game and 8.1 rebounds) after a rollercoaster 2011-2012 season might be worth it.
The trade: New York receives Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts
Los Angeles receives Amare Stoudemire
Trade analysis: Los Angeles is not going to pull the trigger on this deal without receiving additional depth, salary cap relief, or draft picks from the Knicks. By trading away McRoberts, who had fallen out of favor in LA, the Lakers not only shed a contract, but preserve their amnesty to use on another player. LA would surely have to do some retooling of their offense to incorporate Stoudemire’s skill set but, considering the way Gasol struggled to fit in, that might not be the worst consequence. New York surely has to be thinking about ditching the idea of making a contender out of the Carmelo Anthony-Stoudemire pairing. Gasol certainly knows he is a second option and would not have as difficult a time coexisting within the same offense as Stoudemire seemed to.
5. ORLANDO MAGIC
How it could happen: There is only one person who has the power to make this trade happen: Dwight Howard. If Howard says that he would be open to signing a long-term extension with the Lakers then a Howard for Gasol trade immediately makes sense for both teams. However, the Magic are likely to ask for more than the Lakers are willing to give up, so this trade is still a long shot.
The trade: Orlando receives Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, and Christian Eyenga and future draft considerations
Los Angeles receives Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu
Trade analysis: Unfortunately for the Lakers, they may have to give up Bynum and Gasol to get Howard, something that may not be worth it for the Lakers. Hypothetically, a trade that has Orlando receiving Gasol and Bynum while LA brings in Howard and Turkoglu seems to be just too perfect for Orlando to ever happen. Instead, LA is more likely to offer something more along the lines of the above package for Howard. If Orlando is comfortable giving up Howard for Gasol, cap relief, and future draft picks, then this trade makes sense for both sides. The Lakers would then be able to flip Bynum, who is proving to be a major headache, for players to complement the Bryant-Howard pairing.
4. BOSTON CELTICS
How it could happen: With Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett becoming free agents this summer, Boston may be looking to revamp its roster. Rondo has got to be untouchable, unless an elite PG is coming back, so that leaves Boston with little else to offer. But again, if Los Angeles desires another star to pair with Kobe Bryant before his window slams shut, Boston should be getting a call from Lakers management about the following trade.
The trade: Boston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Paul Pierce
Trade analysis: If LA could ever convince the Celtics to give up the face of their franchise, this might be the trade that makes the most sense. Sure, it would be interesting to see how Pierce and Bryant would coexist on the same court, but along with Bynum, they would form quite possibly the third best “Big Three” in the league behind Miami and Oklahoma City. Boston could then attempt to re-sign Allen and/or Garnett, or pursue other free agents to build around Rondo, Gasol, Brandon Bass, and Avery Bradley.
3. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
How it could happen: Minnesota figures to be aggressive this summer in an attempt to make the jump from rebuilding team to playoff contender. The Timberwolves were slotted as the eighth seed out West before Ricky Rubio’s injury and in order to guarantee a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, they need to improve the roster. Gasol would be a natural fit in Rick Adelman’s offense as a big man who can pass, knock down open jumpers, and create his own offense.
The trade: Minnesota receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Luke Ridnour, Nikola Pekovic, and Michael Beasley
Trade analysis: In order for this trade to work, Minnesota would first have to re-sign Beasley at approximately $6.4 million. Granted, this gets tricky as Beasley is a restricted free agent and would have to agree to be signed-and-traded to the Lakers. But if the Beasley signs on, this trade could have the desired effect on both teams. Minnesota would get a player Rubio is extremely familiar with who A) would compliment Kevin Love’s game reasonably well and B) would thrive in Rick Adelman’s system. The Lakers, on the other hand, would obviously add some much needed depth. Ridnour could easily compete with Ramon Sessions for the starting spot and, at worst, would be a great back up, thus freeing the team to amnesty Steve Blake. Beasley would add some scoring off the bench that the Lakers desperately need. Pekovic is one of the rising stars in the league who, although he may not have a obviously clear role with the team, has a bright future as a solid contributor. With this trade, the Lakers would address several needs by adding point guard depth and consistency, another scorer, and a big with a high motor who can score and rebound.
2. CHICAGO BULLS
How it could happen: We wrote earlier about how, after the Derrick Rose injury, Chicago needed to seriously look at bringing in another star to compliment Rose. Considering Gasol had been on the team’s radar at the trade deadline, with Rose supposedly advocating for his team to acquire him, Gasol is a natural choice.
The trade: Chicago receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Carlos Boozer, CJ Watson, and a draft pick (No. 29 this year)
Trade analysis: This is very similar to the rumored trade discussions that happened around the deadline this year. Chicago would do this trade in a heartbeat for obvious reasons, mainly the fact that they could add Gasol without breaking up much of their core group of players. Los Angeles certainly would be a little more hesitant. However, Boozer is a guy who put up 15.0 and 17.5 points a game, respectively, in his two seasons with the Bulls despite the perception he has been a let-down. Watson, likewise, could add offensive fire power off the bench to a Lakers team that had very few contributions on the wing outside of Kobe.
1. HOUSTON ROCKETS
How it could happen: It is well documented that the Rockets have been zealous in their pursuit to add both a star and a big man. With Gasol, a player they have long coveted and almost landed before the start of this season, they could accomplish both tasks. They certainly have plenty of assets to offer the Lakers; it could simply come down to how much they are willing to give up in exchange to bring Gasol to town.
The trade: Houston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, and two draft picks (No. 14 and 16 this year)
Trade analysis: Houston is even more attractive because they possess two picks in this year’s stacked draft. Not only would this trade provide the Lakers with a satisfactory replacement for Gasol to start at PF and give them an intriguing prospect in Lowry, but they would be able to further add to the roster with these two picks. There will be an abundance of wing players who will still be on the board that could come in an contribute right away. This trade gives the Lakers a great deal of depth while replacing Gasol with Scola, a player who is only one season removed from a campaign in which he averaged 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. The Rockets would be ecstatic to add Gasol while holding onto key pieces such as Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Patrick Patterson, Samuel Dalembert, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, and Chandler Parsons.
Don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but there’s a bit of a formula for success in the NBA. Get superstars on a team, surround them with quality role players, and you’re bound to succeed.
Take a look at the seven teams that most would consider are in the running to play for an NBA championship: the Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, Clippers, Heat, Bulls, and Celtics. Every single one of them has bona fide superstars, guys that can take over a game at a moment’s notice, guys that can carry them to the Finals. Look even closer and at least five (I say “at least” because it depends on how you judge the Spurs) of those seven have two superstars.
Now, take the Chicago Bulls into consideration. They have one superstar (Derrick Rose) and have surrounded him by the highest-quality role players. Guys like Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, and Carlos Boozer are very good players, but they certainly are not superstars. However, this chose team to go against the grain. They chose to build around their one superstar with very good players, play team basketball, get everyone involved, and play nasty defense. It is a formula that is rare in the current NBA, but a noble thought nonetheless.
Sad news is this: it doesn’t work.
The Bulls, now without Rose, are all but taken out of the conversation. They have no shot at winning a title this year. In the blink of an eye, they went from title contenders to a team that many doubt can advance past the second round.
Derrick Rose was the motor that kept this team going. He was the guy that could neutralize any advantage any opposing team had over these Bulls because, simply put, there is no one in the league like him. He is a point guard who creates matchup problems no matter who you put on him. He is always looking for his own shot, but this benefits his teammates as much as a pass-first point guard because the attention he receives from opposing defenses creates quality shots when he does give it up. He was the guy who the Bulls could give the ball to in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Now all of that is gone and there is no one to replace him.
So now, the Bulls are left to pick up the pieces to try to contend without their leader. And you know what? They have a fantastic roster and coach and are sure to give teams headaches. They will still beat the 76ers in the first round, might even beat the Celtics or Hawks in the second, but they sure as hell are not beating the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. When Rose went down, any chance this team had of competing with the Heat, and for a title, was thrown out the window.
Therein lies the problem: Rose was far too important to this team’s success for them to have much of a chance. This year he goes down to an ACL tear and the season is over. Last year, the Heat threw so a wide variety of defensive combinations at him, stunting his game, and none of his teammates could effectively step up. Who knows what’s to come if the Bulls keep on this same course?
That is why the Bulls need to make a move this offseason. They need to lessen Rose’s burden and get someone on their team who can take the pressure off of him.
Just look at the Heat this season. In LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they have two of the ten best players in the league. But they aren’t too reliant on either one; you need not look further than Miami’s 14-1 record when Wade was out of the lineup and James was in as proof. Sure, James is the best player on the planet and he’s not going anywhere, but a team like the Heat can stay afloat without their best player.
Surely, you can cite the Bulls’ 17-8 record without Rose as proof that they can do the same, but not a single sane person reading this is going to argue that the Bulls can still win the title. Not the same for the Heat; if Wade were out for the rest of the playoffs there is no doubt in my mind that the Heat could still contend for a title.
So what are the Bulls to do? It is clear to me that they need an additional superstar that will complement Rose as well as the team itself. A player that will not demand an inordinate amount of shots, but can still take opposing teams’ attention away from Rose. A player that will buy into the defensive intensity that this team prides itself on. A player that can step up when Rose is down or out. A player that has seen his team go through a similar process (although to a lesser extent).
Yes, that is right, the player the Bulls need is none other than Dwight Howard.
The Bulls were rumored to have had internal discussions about dealing for Howard at the trade deadline, but did not pull the trigger for many reasons, including Howard not guaranteeing he would sign an extension. But this injury to Rose absolutely has to change management’s thinking.
Howard could come in, be a secondary scoring option to Rose, and anchor their defense. It would give the Bulls one of the top 3 one-two punches in the league.
After the season, once Howard once again makes it clear to Magic management that he does not intend to sign long-term, Orlando will look to trade their franchise center. The hysteria will begin all over again and the Bulls would be wise to be in the mix. A package of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and draft picks for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu would work mathematically and would certainly give the Magic a competitive offer.
Until the Bulls reassess their situation and understand that their current formula is doomed, Chicago can get used to the disappointment they have felt since they heard about Rose’s injury. But that can all change with one move: a trade for Howard.