Trade talks between the Lakers and Nuggets have escalated this morning. There isn’t one specific ‘go-to’ link for the story, but if you visit any of the major sporting news outlets, you will find a version or three of some mystical trade scenario. In similar news, the world is ending on December 21st, 2012.
No, the world isn’t really ending (Sorry, Mayans) and the Lakers shouldn’t be in panic mode. But they are in panic mode. Sirens are blaring, lights are flickers, and everyone is waiting for Mitch Kupchak to pick up that red phone and dial. As if the national guard can come in and help salvage the Lakers ‘lost’ season. But is this season really lost?
To most fans, this season is in turmoil. Speaking to any Laker fan will tell you that much. But you will also receive a clear cut message that the season isn’t over until you lose in the playoffs, and for that, they are very much spot on. But this isn’t about the fans or even the Lakers season. This might be a move that Jerry Buss wants to make for the future of the franchise.
The Trade & Nuggets Log Jam: Not sure what will be included in this trade, but a Carmelo-for-Andrew straight up deal does work according to ESPN’s trade machine. Chances are this isn’t a trade the Nuggets agree to. They will have way too many pieces for their front court and not enough perimeter scorers. The Nuggets are also in a rebuilding mode so contracts like Billups and Harrington will also need to go. Their best chance of dumping Harrington is to attach him to their most valuable trade chip, Melo. This further complicates the deal for LA and they would have to include Lamar or Luke or picks & cash or a third team. The trade scenarios can get as complex and diverse as one would like so for now lets just stick to the idea that the Lakers and Nuggets would agree on a 1-for-1 swap.
Footrace Home: The Lakers are on pace to win 58 games this year. For those of you keeping count, that would be a one game improvement on last years 57-25 record. That would also be the same season in which they didn’t have home court going into the playoffs yet managed to bring home their second straight NBA championship. It’s not that the Lakers’ season has spiraled out of control, but these Lakers are showing some fatigue. And that’s alright. This is a team that’s trying to get back into the NBA Finals for an impressive 4th consecutive season. Wedge in all the guest appearances the Lakers’ stars made for their national teams and you have yourself some extremely tired legs. And tired legs is exactly what you should expect from a team trying to repeat. Look at the 1993 Bulls, the 1998 Bulls and the 2002 Lakers. All of them went into the playoffs lacking home court and all of them came out of the playoffs with another title.
Sure the Lakers have a lot of issues right now; They can’t beat any of the elite squads. They aren’t playing defense like last season. They aren’t sharing the ball like last season. And their rotations look slow and even confused at times. But they are playing better offense, in fact they have the #1 offense in the NBA right now. Let’s also not discount the fact that Matt Barnes has been out with an injury. Matt might not make a giant impact in the box score, but his good outside shooting helps the Lakers stretch the floor and his pestering defense helps relieve pressure off of Kobe and even Ron Artest.
If a trade did go down, chances are the Lakers aren’t catching San Antonio. Currently, the Spurs are 42-8 (7 games ahead of the Lakers) and on pace to win 69 games. The Lakers have just 31 games remaining and have a record of 36-15. If the Spurs continue on their current pace, the Lakers, mathematically, wouldn’t have a chance to catch them. LA would have to finish the season 31-0 just to finish 2 games behind the Spurs ( a position they are likely to end up in without the trade). As for catching Boston, who is 38-13 and on pace to win 61? The Lakers could close a 2-game gap easily. The play each other on Thursday, and if LA can go into Boston and steal one, that would shave off a whole game from Boston’s lead. Barring any catastrophic events hampering San Antonio’s season, lets just write-off the Lakers chances at obtaining the coveted home court. Judging by Phil’s threepeat history, they might not even need it.
Lakers Height: With home court advantage basically, the Lakers still have another advantage over the NBA, their towering height. If they were to match-up with the Spurs in a series without home court (something they are probably not going to obtain) they should at least maintain their frustrating size advantage. Although the Spurs have already beaten the Lakers twice this season in head-to-head games, Pau’s advantage was clear. In the last match up with Tim Duncan and the Spurs, Pau Gasol went off for 19 points and 7 rebounds on 8 of 10 shooting while holding Tim Duncan to a 8 point 8 rebound performance on a putrid 3 of 12 shooting. The only question one should have here is why did Gasol only get 10 shots in this game?
High Volume, Low Efficency: The one thing that does prevent Pau from getting more looks (which he converts at a very efficient rate) is the fact that he plays with Kobe Bryant. For all the brilliance Kobe brings to the game, he still marinades it with a ball-hole hot sauce. That’s just the nature of Kobe and it’s something that Laker fans have learned to live through while watching their raise 5 NBA banners during Kobe’s career. It’s been a decent trade-off, to say the least. But how would a Lakers team taste with two players with that same flavor?
The Lakers have been able to win titles during the Kobe-era not because Kobe has been a prolific scorer. It’s been because players like Pau, Bynum and Lamar convert at a very high rate and help balance out the less than stellar shooting performances by Mamba. Like I said, it’s been something that Laker fans have been able to tolerate because when he is on, he is a serial killer, and when he is off, the clean-up crew is still there to take care of business.
So dumping one of those players that help balance this team for another that will send them into a tailspin of inefficient basketball isn’t exactly the ideal band-aid for this season. Just for comparison, here are Bynum and Anthony’s stat lines for the season:
Bynum is averaging 11 points and 7.4 rebounds in 25 minutes a night on 7.7 shots per game and scoring at 57.7% of those shots. Carmelo, in comparison, is getting 35 minutes per game and averaging 24.6 points, 7.8 rebounds on 19 attempts per night, converting just 44.2% of his field goals. Instantly, I’ll tell you that the Lakers are giving up a lot of rebounds if this trade happens. Phil and his coaching staff would also need to create additional shots for Melo. The Lakers offense is already an established system so Melo would have to weasel away shots from other players. He’s going to get less looks than usual and he’s going to have to agree on a passive role in crunch time. After all, this is still Kobe’s team. Even if Melo were to settle for 15 shots, that’s still 8 additional shots that an existing Laker would have to give up. If I were a betting man, I’d say those come out of Pau’s pockets.
To top it off, Melo is not built for what the Lakers need out of their Small Forward. The two years the Lakers repeated and all the years before that, the Small Forward position has always been filled by a defensive minded player who will chase down loose rebounds and can stretch the court on offense by knocking down the open three. From Rick Fox to Trevor Ariza down to Ron Artest last season. The 3 has always been someone to do the work Kobe wouldn’t or couldn’t. If this description sounds familiar to you, it’s not because an image of Carmelo is now flashing in your head. in fact this is the exact opposite of ‘Melo’s blueprint. Filling that gap with someone who mirrors Kobe’s game would be a redundant move for a Lakers team that’s already struggling on the defensive end.
The main result of this trade would be limiting Pau’s highly efficient looks for the short term in hopes that the younger Carmelo Anthony would be a comparable replacement for Kobe Bryant in the future. In essence, this trade would do the exact opposite of what it was intended to do. No real short term fixes and a questionable long term outcome.
Kobe’s Successor: If Buss and Kupchak intend to acquire Carmelo as the successor to Kobe and help bridge the gap from this threepeat to the next, why not just trade Kobe? Bethlehem Shoals half-jokingly mentioned this on twitter but he isn’t that far off. If the Lakers are looking at Melo as both a short term fix and a long term post-Kobe plan why not trade Kobe now? Sounds crazy, I know, and it’s not something I’m lobbying for, but I’m also not lobbying the idea of trading your 23-year old seven footer, either.
In the end, I can’t imagine the Lakers trading not only their biggest advantage, but their only advantage of this season; their size. But i can’t say this hasn’t happened before. Need I remind you of how the Shaq-era ended in LA? Jerry Buss has shown that he will make all the moves necessary to win but he has also shown he will always give up winning in the short term for long term success. his foresight and willingness to act has been better than any owner in sports history and the 16 banners hanging over his head are proof of that.
Perhaps for Jerry, this season is already lost and to him, there are plenty of other seasons to win.
(Photo via Yahoo! Sports & AP, All stats via Basketball-reference.com)