NBA Basketball Column: Jump Ball
Time for Another Change?
In the midst of the worst statistical season of his career, rumors indicate Pau Gasol's time in L.A. may be fading.
The 32 year old all-star has struggled in new head coach Mike D'Antoni's system, and with the Lakers in “Win now mode”, they need to find someone who can play the power forward spot the “D'Antoni way”. While Gasol is a quality big from outside the paint, he isn't Dirk Nowitzki, and does get a lot of his points by using his skills from the high post and working his way in. D'Antoni requires his power forward to spread the floor, to the three point line if possible, and that's just not Gasol's game.
Gasol has said all the right things, and has said he can adjust to the new system, but how long will the Lakers wait for that? Gasol is also running at 60% and has sat the last three games with knee tendonitis in both knees. In his place, Antawn Jamison has started and has been exceptional, scoring 15 points in his first two starts, and going 6/10 from three point range. While he is 36, he is still a terrific athlete and is still a potent scorer when called upon. Now there have been murmurs that they may keep Jamison in the starting spot and have Gasol come off the bench. While they would then have the most talented sixth man in the NBA, this may not fly with Gasol once he's healthy. He does seem to be a team oriented player, but star athletes do have their pride. Unfortunately for Gasol, Jamison is a much better fit in D'Antoni's system, and Gasol is playing for a coach that doesn't like to bend much when it comes to his basketball philosophy.
So now the big question, do the Lakers trade Gasol? It would make no sense to trade him for picks and young players at this point because the Lakers only have a two year window with the current core. Rumors have indicated that a swap of Gasol for Toronto's Andrea Bargnani and the expiring contract of Jose Calderon could happen, but it's a trade that doesn't make much sense from the Raptors point of view. For the Lakers, it does. Calderon is quality playmaker, capable of handling the starting job when Nash is out, and he brings a similar skill set to the table, just at a lower level. Defense has always been his Achilles heel, but Nash is a poor defender too so no loss there. His contract is also up after this season so the Lakers won't be committed to him for very long if he doesn't pan out.
As for Bargnani, his skill set would fit what the Lakers require perfectly. He is constantly ragged on for his defense, but other than poor rebounding totals, he really isn't as bad as people make him out to be. Even if he was the worst defender of all time, he has Dwight Howard to bail him out. It's the offensive side of the ball that the Lakers will need him for. While his shot has been off this year, he is right behind Nowitzki as one of the premier perimeter big men in the NBA. He can also use his athleticism to get by other bigs and finish at the rim. For the Laker this trade makes sense, for the Raptors though, it doesn’t make one shred of sense. Calderon’s $10.5 million comes off the books this summer clearing up room for possibilities this summer and beyond. Bargnani is also 27, five years younger than Gasol, and a more talented scorer. Yes Gasol is the much more well-rounded player, but it’s scoring that the Raptors have an issue with. This trade has a slim chance of happening because Raptor’s GM Bryan Colangelo will have to ask himself “What difference will Gasol make to this team right now?” and the answer would be, not enough to make this trade worthwhile. Is Bargnani flawed? Absolutely. Is his defense the reason the Raptors are in the state they’re in this year? Not even close. It has been the team’s lack of execution in the fourth quarter time and time again that has killed them. The Raptors have had leads late in games on several occasions and not been able to capitalize on that. A banged up 32 year old Gasol will not be the answer.
The Lakers may have a taker in Minnesota, but they’re offering former second overall pick Derrick Williams, who needs to find a team that can use him properly. Having said that, the Lakers may not have the time or patience to wait for Williams to develop into a contributor to a Championship calibre team. He would be a perfect fit for a Mike D’Antoni system with his natural athleticism; he just needs to work on his perimeter shot. Ideally the Lakers would love to acquire Howard’s former front court mate Ryan Anderson from the soon to be New Orleans Pelican’s (awful name for a sports team, what are they thinking!), but he is said to be “untouchable” for some reason. He’s a good player, but not THAT good. He would be a perfect fit with the Lakers because he runs the floor well, is a solid rebounder and can stretch the floor for Howard like he did in Orlando and hit a high amount of 3-pointers. In a perfect world, he would be the number one target for the Lakers, but it would most likely take a three way deal for this to happen since Gasol would be a useless piece for the Hornets at this point in time.
As the trade deadline gets closer, more teams will be open to the idea of adding a player of Gasol’s caliber, but the Lakers need to find something that can help them right away, making this a very hard trade to execute, especially mid-season. When Gasol and Nash are healthy enough to contribute, what follows will determine the Lakers course of action. If Nash is able to successfully incorporate Gasol into the team’s offense then he stays a Laker at least one more year. If not, then expect Gasol to be the number one name come trade dead line day.
While they may have made promises to Nash that Gasol wouldn’t get traded, what’s good for a team today may not be tomorrow, thus is the way of sports, and part of the beauty of it. It looked good then having the big four, but right now the pieces don’t seem to be fitting, so changes must be made if they plan on beating the likes of the Thunder, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Heat. Verbal promises mean nothing in sports because things are always changing. Just ask the Miami Marlins fans and ex-Marlins Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle
When all is said and done, Gasol stays with the Lakers this year because the return isn’t likely to be there. But in the off-season he will be heavily coveted, especially with such a weak crop of big men available in free-agency. The Lakers will just have to make due for now.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brewer has been lethal off the bench for the Nuggets, especially in the past three games where he has posted point totals of 19, 19 and 20. He is a complementary rebounder and 3-point shooter, but he is great at using his length to generate steals. The depth at wing for the Nuggets is very deep, but with Wilson Chandler suffering from hip injury, the minutes will go to Brewer, who is a very good player when given the minutes. As long as the Nuggets give him the sixth man minutes, then he’s a valuable double digit scoring option off the bench that will aid you in steals 3-pointers and a few rebounds too.
It’s sad to see how far off the one time All-Star has fallen the past two seasons. He now has a starting gig with the Hawks and responded with three quality performances and one brutal one in those four starts. He has played big minutes for the Hawks as of late, and the talent should be there for a 14 point, five assist player at the very least as long as he can stay healthy and get playing time. Make him a prime target if you need help at the guard position.
Scoring options are slim in Chicago right now, but Belinelli has been putting his talent on display in the Bulls previous three games. We have all known he can score, it’s just a matter of consistency with the 26 year old Italian. In his past three games he has averaged 20.33 points in his last three games, fully taking advantage of Richard Hamilton being out with a sprained left foot. He doesn’t provide much more other than in the scoring department, but if you need a short term relief in the scoring, then he’s your perfect pick-up.
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