Posted by Matt Moore
The Lakers are 1-5 against top echelon teams. Phil Jackson couldn't care less. Kobe Bryant is beyond angry. And General Manager Mitch Kupchak? He's talking T-word. Trade. From the Los Angeles Times:
"Yes . . . I may have to look into a trade, but I'm not saying we have "talked to other teams yet, Kupchak said. "We have not been playing up to our level and I dont know why. Maybe its complacency. Im not sure."via Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says hes thought about making a trade - latimes.com.
A trade? By the defending champs? Could this be happening? Even with the measured and cautious words being tossed around by Kupchak, that's a pretty stunning development even if the Lakers are simply considering a trade. This is a team that has looked every bit like a Finals contender, unless they've been facing an elite team this year. It's also a team that's notorious for not taking teams seriously, having gone seven games with a Yao-less Rockets squad in 2009, having a terrible second half last year, and letting the Suns push them in the Western Conference Finals using a zone, for crying out loud. You have to think this is just an emotional quote from Kupchak revealing a frustration with the team's play, or at least a Jackson-like motivational tactic.
Even stranger than the idea of the Lakers needing to make a trade is the idea of what trade they would be able to make. Every Laker of consequence with any value, contract or skill-wise, has at least two more years left on their deals. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are obviously not even in this discussion. So what are the next options?
- Lamar Odom- Trade Status: Obscenely unlikely. Odom is the quintessential heart and soul of this club. He's found a home there and has flourished when his head is plugged in. What's more, he's part of the reason for the Lakers' absurd length advantage. When Odom is on, the Lakers are nearly unstoppable. Moving him would garner the best set of assets, but who could they get for him, with nearly $9 million on the books for next season, even with his 2013 salary non-guaranteed at $8.2 million?
- Andrew Bynum- Trade Status: Pretty unlikely. Bynum has been involved in trade rumors for years due to his inconsistency, rehab work ethic, and injuries. Yet it was his toughness fighting through the Finals last spring on a torn ligament that helped assure the Lakers a title. He's now considered an invaluable part of the offense, and his improving defense, combined with his willingness to give a hard foul, means he's the backbone of what has been a very soft Lakers interior lately. Combine that with the difficulty of getting teams to invest in someone with his injury history, and the near-$15 million on the books for next year and a team option for over $16 million the next, and it's hard to see a suitor for Bynum that would keep the Lakers in contention.
- Ron Artest- Trade Status: Difficult: From zero to hero to zero again. Artest struggled all last year trying to learn the Triangle, was terrible at times in the playoffs, then hit the biggest hot of his career to help clinch a title for the Lakers (as well as a tip-in in the Western Conference Finals) and was everyone's hero. This year? Back to the doghouse. If anyone's to be moved, it's probably Artest, but that says more about where Ron's sunk to rather than where his value is at. Getting anything for someone who's been such a pain for so many teams with over $21 million left on his contract after this year is difficult. When it's Ron Artest? Even harder.
- Luke Walton- Trade Status: Ha-ha-ha-ha: Yes, because I'm sure that what GMs with a valuable commodity are thinking is "Oh, we can get the 28th pick in the draft and Luke Walton with over $11 million left on his contract over the next two years? Who wouldn't do that deal?" Walton's contract is slowly reaching movable status after an ill-advised extension, but he's a long ways away from upgrade-bait.
- Steve Blake- Trade Status- Limited: Blake's got three years after this one for a combined roughly $14 million, is a serviceable point guard, and fits easy into a rotation. So he's got some value. But in terms of trying to get a major upgrade, he'd have to be packaged with one of the above candidates in order for it to make any sense. He can act as icing on the cake, but even then, having three years left on his deal may make it a little too sweet for most.
- Derek Fisher - Trade Status: Laughable: The Lakers would never give up their most veteran leader who everyone came up to and thanked after winning the last title. Bryant would never stand to lose the guy he's been to the playoffs with the most. Not everyone can run the Triangle point guard position... okay, that's a lie. Pretty much everyone can dribble the ball up, pass it to Kobe Bryant, and then go sit in a corner and often get blown by on defense. But Fisher's hit too many huge shots in Laker history to be forsaken. And no one is looking to pay him another $6.8 million for two more years.
- Shannon Brown- Trade Status: Intriguing, if unlikely: Brown failed to fetch any significant offers on the open market this summer, so who's going to trade for him now, even in a career year for him? He's got great upside and has looked like a possible building block, but who doesn't when they're running next to this team? Brown's cheap and his contract is flexible, but he's not going to cash in any huge superstar on the open market.
- Matt Barnes- Trade Status: Injured: Barnes is injured for a few more weeks, his contract's too low to matter, and the only teams that would be interested in him are contenders, the sort of teams that would never give up valuable assets to the defending champs.
So while Kupchak may be looking to try and upgrade his team, Michael Heisley and Chris Wallace aren't walking through that door. Even with the Nuggets being dragged slowly towards the inescapable black hole in the reality that they have to trade Carmelo Anthony, and the Sixers wanting to offload Iguodala to make room for their rebuilding project, or the Suns in near full-on blow-up mode, no one's going to be looking to the Lakers to cash in. The Lakers are on top, and have spent a lot to get to the top. They're loaded with talent, but it's not talent that garners a lot on the market.
After all, how do you possibly get great return on trading members of the most talented team in the league? Instead, I think the Lakers will take the Phil Jackson approach. Sit back, relax, coast through the next four months, and flip the switch when it counts. They've done it before. They'll do it again.