Only eight months ago, Kobe Bryant expressed his desire to be traded due to his growing frustration with the Los Angeles Lakers’ general manager’s intent to enter the team into a rebuilding stage. When Bryant was asked if there were any teams that he would rather play for, he simply replied, “At this point, I’ll go play on Pluto.”
Now let’s fast-forward to this past Friday, when Kobe had just poured in 46 points to help lift the Lakers over the Toronto Raptors on the road. He was all smiles after the game, but it had nothing to do with the win or his performance on the court. So why was his attitude so completely different from this past summer, with him even going as far as to compliment the Lakers’ front office? Probably because only hours before the game, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak pulled the trigger on their biggest trade since the organization sent Shaquille O’Neal to Miami.
Kupchak had just traded for – more like stole – Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. In return for the 2006 All-Star, the Lakers sent a package that included Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, rights to Marc Gasol and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010. In one afternoon, through one trade, the Lakers sealed their spot as one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
More bizarre than Bryant’s parking-lot interview and talk radio show appearances over the summer, when he demanded trades, was how the Lakers gave up practically nothing to acquire Gasol. Maybe the Grizzlies thought they were essentially getting the same player back when they received the rights to Pau’s brother Marc. However, more likely, they were looking to dump Pau’s contract and get more salary-cap room when Brown’s $9.1 million contract expires.
The only problem now is that there won’t be any players who will want to sign with the Grizzlies – who now look more and more like the early Vancouver Grizzlies. With the Grizzlies rumored to be shopping Mike Miller, and the already-low attendance at FedExForum, Memphis will not be a desired location for free agents this summer.
On the Lakers’ side, the seemingly “expendable” Lamar Odom remains in Los Angeles, and word around the NBA is that Los Angeles will not be looking to make any more deals before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. So there will be no last-second effort to trade for New Jersey’s point guard Jason Kidd, even though he and Odom were the center of the Lakers’ trade rumor.
Instead, the Lakers will be looking to integrate Gasol into coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Gasol, a superb passer, could fit right into the team’s offensive philosophy and in turn make the Lakers a dangerous team in the playoffs, no matter what seed they fall into.
A more overlooked aspect of this trade are its short-term implications. Many analysts saw the Lakers falling into the depths of the Western Conference when they lost Andrew Bynum for two months due to his left knee injury. Now, with Gasol on board, the Lakers can stay afloat amongst the powers of the West while integrating him into the system. When Bynum finally returns from his injury, the Lakers are going to have a scary front-court lineup. With Bynum, Gasol and Odom standing at heights of 7 feet, 7 feet, and 6 feet, 11 inches, respectively, the Lakers could have one of the tallest lineups the NBA has ever seen. Los Angeles fans can only hope that the paint does not become too crowded and that players will approve of their touch count.
As long as Bryant stays happy and spreads the ball around to his big men, the Lakers have a bright future. Well, at least for the next two years, until they need to re-sign Bryant and extend Bynum’s contract. Nonetheless, when Bryant was asked if the trade will help him decide to stay a Laker, he said playfully, “Ah, it doesn’t hurt.”
Dmitry Bisk is an animal science senior and a Mustang Daily sports columnist.