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.
For some teams it’s time to start thinking about the 2012-2013 season. Surely the Bobcats, Wizards, and Hornets, to name a few, have been looking ahead to next year for several months. And then there are teams that have slowly begun to realize that they are going to miss the playoffs.
But there is one team in the league that went from dreaming of the playoffs to planning for next year in a matter of minutes: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The second that Ricky Rubio’s knee buckled against the Lakers on March 9th, all the Wolves’ hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season vanished. The momentum the team had been building all year suddenly crumbled to nothingness and the team’s 4-14 record since that game points to just how devastating the injury truly was.
So the question now must be asked: what one thing do the Wolves have to do to make the playoffs next year? Pray that Rubio returns to form after rehabbing his knee? Ensure that Nikola Pekovic continues to improve as a reliable offensive contributor? Develop Wesley Johnson’s confidence and scoring ability? A full training camp together for this young team could certainly do wonders with a teacher like Rick Adelman.
Obviously, all of these would be huge for development of this franchise. However, the story of how the Minnesota Timberwolves can become a contender begins and ends with Al Jefferson. That’s right, if the Wolves want to be a serious contender for years to come, and not just a threat to make the playoffs, then they need the Jazz to make the playoffs this year.
Because of the Al Jefferson trade from two years ago, the Wolves own Utah’s first round pick in this year’s draft, so long as it’s not a lottery pick. Now throw in the fact that Minnesota’s own first-round pick is on it’s way to New Orleans and how difficult it is to lure top free agents to the Twin Cities and you see just how important this is for the Wolves.
The Jazz making the playoffs, and thus surrendering their first round pick, represents Minnesota’s best chance for improving this offseason.
Just imagine who would be available to the Wolves if they had the 16th pick in this year’s draft. Austin Rivers, Terrence Ross, Doron Lamb, and John Jenkins all come to mind as players that could upgrade the Wolves at their biggest need, shooting guard.
Minnesota desperately needs another player who can spread the floor by knocking down 3s and get his own shot from time to time. A scoring wing man would be the perfect complement to the inside scoring of Kevin Love and Pekovic and the play-making ability of Rubio.
And what if the Jazz don’t make the playoffs and the Wolves are left without a first-round pick? Well, they are then looking at a future similar to their Western Conference foes, the Houston Rockets.
Ever since the 2003-2004 season, the Rockets have been battling to make the playoffs year after year. Unable to attract a big time free agent or land a high lottery pick, the Rockets haven’t been able to make the move from average team to contender.
Thus, the Wolves have this one chance to break free from mediocrity. In a year where the draft class is considered to be the deepest it has been in years, where the No. 20 pick in this year’s draft is akin to having the No. 10 pick any other year, the Wolves have a chance to make that leap. Surely a rookie won’t elevate them to championship contenders next season. But several years down the road, if all the players, including this fictional rookie, develop correctly, the Wolves have a chance to build around the best power forward in the league, Love, and one of the most promising young players, Rubio.
There in lies the hope for the Timberwolves franchise. It may be a precarious position to be in, but the Wolves have to sit back and root for the Jazz to make a run to the playoffs.
In fact, the schedule-makers did the Wolves a favor by pitting them against the Denver Nuggets, currently 1.5 games ahead of the Jazz for the 8th seed, in the final game of the season. Wouldn’t it be something if the Wolves could knock off the Nuggets in the last game of the season and thus thrust the Jazz into the postseason?
It may be that the Wolves will have a hand in their fate after all, rather than putting the future of their franchise in the hands of Jefferson and the Jazz.
This year it seems as though the race for Most Improved Player has more legitimate candidates than any race in recent memory. Jeremy Lin, Ersan Ilyasova, Nikola Pekovic, Ryan Anderson, and Greg Monroe are only a handful of the names in the conversation. But there is one candidate that is getting no ink (at least on this topic): Kevin Love.
That’s right, last year’s Most Improved Player should be in the running for this year’s award as well.
Wait a minute, is that even possible? Can one player really improve so drastically from one season to the next and win the award, only to improve once again the following season in a similarly extreme manner? It seems impossible…and that’s exactly why Love should be in the running for the award.
Love improved his numbers from 14.0 ppg and 11.0 rpg in 2009-2010 to 20.2 and 15.2, respectively, in 2010-2011. Love made the quintessential leap from average player to very good player, a move that most often garners attention for this award.
However, the fourth year player up in Minnesota has made an even more impressive leap this season: the one to franchise player.
Last year, when Love won the award, I thought Love was a damn good player, but he had plenty of faults. He had reached his ceiling. He was putting up great numbers, but for a terrible team. He was not the kind of player a franchise could build around.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Instead, he is 4th in the league in scoring at 26.5 and 2nd in rebounds at 13.5. He put up numbers in March that the NBA has never seen before, averaging 30.7 ppg and 13.9 rpg all while shooting 45% from 3.
Love is one of the most difficult players to defend in the league. His game can single-handedly change the shape of a game. His mere presence on the court makes countless others better. Sure, he doesn’t make his teammates better in terms of traditional measures, but just ask Pekovic, Wayne Ellington, Luke Ridnour along with Love’s other teammates what kind of effect he can have on their games. I guarantee they would tell you that the focus defenses put on him has led to infinitely more quality shots for everyone on the team.
Last year, Love put up great numbers on a horrendous team. This year, he is putting up once-in-a-generation numbers for a team that would be in playoff contention if not for its losing battle against the injury bug.
He has carried the Timberwolves from worst team in the league to playoff contender, all while he transformed from good to great.
The real problem is that, for whatever the reason, this transformation, arguably the toughest to achieve in sports, is rarely one that garners a player votes for Most Improved Player. Of course, Love is certainly getting his fair share of publicity, with several pundits listing him in the top 3 in the MVP race. And that’s the crux of the problem here: it is unthinkable that a player who is now considered one of the best in the game could really have improved that drastically…TWICE.
Believe it or not, it’s happening in front of your eyes and there is no indication Love is slowing down. Let’s just hope voters catch on in time for the voting for next season’s award.