Have the Los Angeles Lakers finally made the trade that will return them to the NBA Finals? For NBA fans in the city of Los Angeles, can it get any better than this?
LOS ANGELES. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in June for the Los Angeles Lakers.
For the team that has not seen a trip to the second round of the play-offs since the acrimonious departure of Shaquille O'Neal four seasons ago, February 1st, 2008 may be the day that Laker fans remember as the day the team returned to it's former (and rightful) place among pro basketball's elite.
This afternoon, the Lakers acquired Memphis Grizzlies' forward/center Pau Gasol in exchange for - make sure you're sitting down as you read this - center Kwame Brown, rookie guard Javaris Crittenton, the (semi) retired Aaron McKie, and a couple of first round picks.
That's a 27-year-old, former Rookie-of-the-Year, All-Star big man with numbers (19 points/9 rebounds) for a former first-round bust with no recognizable skills except height, bad hands, slow feet and a $9 million salary that the whole population of Greater Los Angeles publicly, and the entire Lakers' organization privately, has been counting the days to be rid of since he was brought here from from the Wizards to replace O'Neal in 2005. In three full seasons with the team, Brown averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds. This season, 5 and 5.
The moving of Brown, along with McKie, and rookie Crittenton, and their combined $14 million in salaries, for a young, active and skilled seven-footer making the same money seemed to be the no-brainer the Lakers have been unable to pull off since the days of legendary GM Jerry West. Lakers' current General Manager and former West apprentice Mitch Kupchak has never been able to surround all-world guard Kobe Bryant with even marginally comparable talent since the O'Neill debacle.
Now, at the half-way point in the season, and with starting center Andrew Bynum out for at least 6 more weeks, the Lakers have a center to fill in - and a new power forward for the stretch run and the play-offs. And now, this Laker team is expected to make a run.
A run all the way to...
Remember late June basketball at Staples Center? Well, maybe Sparks fans remember, but I'm talking Laker basketball. Eight-championships-in-Los Angeles basketball. This team, now over-flowing with promise, is poised to do something not even Kobe Bryant could have told you in a restaurant parking lot in Newport Beach. With a soon-projected line-up of twenty-year-old emerging star Bynum at center, Gasol and comfortably complimentary Lamar Odom at forward, and Kobe and Derek Fisher at guard - along with probably the deepest bench in the Western Conference, the Lakers - these Lakers - have L.A. talking basketball again.
In his blog, CBS2 sportscaster John Ireland (http://search.cbs2.com/default.aspx?TabId=0&InDym=1&SearchString=john+irelands+blog) tells it this way:
"I like this deal from the Lakers' standpoint because they need scoring, especially with Bynum out for at least another month. [And] you pick up caliber player without trading any starters, and you get Kwame off the roster."
Gasol, who was reportedly unhappy in Memphis with a Grizzlies team whose record of 13-33 has them last in the NBA's south-west division. With three years still left on his existing contract, Gasol, the MVP of Spain's 2006 FIBA World Champion team, this trade trade in not just a gap-filling short cut. This trade is for now, and for the future.
Hey, Kobe! I'll meet you in the parking lot of any restaurant in So Cal when you get back from this 9-game roadie. I'll even have my cell camera ready if you want to tell me how you really feel about this trade.
But this time, I have a feeling you'll be speechless.
Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday