The one unifying idea that everyone in Los Angeles can get behind heading into this NBA offseason is that the Lakers need to make some sort of changes.
After back-to-back unimpressive second round playoff ousters under two different head coaches, Mitch Kupchak came out and admitted that his team would actively seek to better itself before the start of next year. Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ current marquee superstar, has also acknowledged on numerous occasions over the last 12 months that he expects to be surrounded with qualify, legitimate talent.
A 33-year-old with the mileage of a 36-year-old on his tires (at least), Kobe knows that he can’t afford to sit around and hope that something good happens. He needs Kupchak and the rest of Laker brass to make moves. Big moves.
But what sort of deals is the team in a position to make?
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Currently, the Lakers have one of the highest payrolls in The Association and absolutely zero wiggle room as it applies to signing free agents. They can offer the mini mid-level exception to some aging veteran and can re-sign Ramon Sessions (he opted out today) but, other than that, their free agency prospects are limited. Because of the constraints placed on over-the-cap teams, in order to improve the roster, Kupchak would have to work out a trade.
As it stands, the Lakers have exactly two tradable pieces that other teams would be interested in: Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Bynum is young and has a lot of potential for growth, but Gasol is more skilled and far more proven. Mostly due to his age, high ceiling and smaller contract, Bynum is theoretically the more tantalizing trade bait – if you were willing to move both.
In a recent interview with HBO, however, former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson inadvertently made it very clear that team management probably has zero desire to actually move Bynum. Here is what he said (via Deadspin):
"Jim saw Andrew as a kid and thought Bynum was going to be a great pick for our team. But in the process he's wanted to have Andrew to have a bigger and bigger role, and I think he's hired his coach to have Andrew have a bigger and bigger role. And that kind of disjointed the symmetry of what the Lakers were really about.
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"Andrew is an All-Star Center, he did a wonderful job. But what happened was it took Pau out of his game and it took the team away from some of their game. They changed the style dramatically."
None of this is breaking news, but it does reinforce the notion that Jim Buss values Bynum above all else. Including Kobe. There is no other reasonable explanation for why he would be willing to change coaches and general styles of play -- all in an effort to make Bynum a more prominent piece -- when the squad clearly already had a winning formula in place.
And the fact that Buss values Bynum above all else also means that, ultimately, there is no way he’ll trade him.
Can the Lakers still get something good for Gasol? Sure. But that’s not the smart play. The smart play would be trading the guy who you can get the most for (Bynum) while retaining the more skilled post player (Gasol) to compliment Kobe’s increasingly perimeter-oriented game.
Now that we officially know where everything stands, it’ll be interesting to see how Kupchak is able to improve a roster that he’s been trying to tweak for two years now.