The Lakers gave up relatively little to get the franchise big man it has coveted since Shaquille O'Neal left town.
|Pau Gasol and Kwame Brown are trading places. (Getty Images)|
Gasol became disgruntled at the direction Memphis has taken since making three consecutive playoff appearances from 2004-06 and has made no secret of his desire to go elsewhere. Friday afternoon, Memphis granted him that wish, opting for the cap relief Brown affords them and committing to rebuilding with a pair of future first-rounders and the promising Crittenton.
"We're extremely pleased to be able to make this trade," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. "Pau is a proven player of All-Star caliber in this league who can score and rebound and is still a young player. We feel this strengthens our team in the short term as well as the long term.
It all looks great on paper, but reality could soon make another move necessary. Entering Friday night's game against Toronto -- L.A.'s second on a nine-game road trip that won't see Gasol debut at Staples Center until Feb. 19 -- the Lakers are just 2.5 games ahead of Portland for a spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Western Conference is that tightly packed.
Gasol, 27, has missed three games the last two weeks with back issues and won't be back in action until Sunday's game in Washington at the earliest. He'll need time to get acclimated to teammates he's never played with before, though his passing ability out of the post will certainly aid matters.
Still, given the uncertainty regarding his health, Chris Mihm being out another week, Bynum needing time to recover and get his wind back once he gets back in March, all of this could produce a situation where the fortified Lakers are still scrambling to get into the playoffs in the season's final weeks.
As a result, Kupchak may have to make another move if the opportunity presents itself, which fortunately, he's in position to do because he landed Gasol without moving Odom, point guard Jordan Farmar, shooting guard Sasha Vujacic or Bynum, who had come into his own before suffering a season-altering kneecap injury on Jan. 13, against Memphis.
If the Lakers struggle early on this road trip, it's within reason to believe that Kobe Bryant will come to management and ask for the backcourt mate he's always wanted, New Jersey guard Jason Kidd. Brown's expiring $9 million salary is gone, but Odom and Farmar are pieces who have been identified as potential bargaining chips to land the future Hall of Famer Kidd, who confirmed a trade demand issued through his agent earlier this week.
Although L.A. would hate to lose Farmar, considered a building block of the team's future, he'd instantly upgrade them into a powerhouse, aiding the transition between now and the point where Bynum is ready to resume being a force inside. Derek Fisher would be able to flourish in the sixth man role that was initially envisioned for him, while Luke Walton and Trevor Ariza, currently injured, would be able to step in at small forward in place of Odom, who has never really caught on in Jackson's triangle offense as it is.
L.A. has taken one monumental step in competing for a championship by acquiring Gasol, but may have to take another to ensure getting to where it wants to be.
Memphis, in trading Gasol, knows where its going -- straight down. Which is fine -- for now. The Grizzlies appear committed to a long-scale rebuilding effort, sacrificing wins now for picks and cap flexibility later.
"This deal provides us with a significant amount of assets -- two first-round picks, the draft rights to Pau's brother Marc, who has emerged into the top big man in Spain, a talented young point guard in Crittenton and a sizable amount of salary cap room over the next few years," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said in a statement.
As CBSSports.com first reported Thursday afternoon, the Grizzlies are in the process of breaking ties with former No. 2 overall pick Stromile Swift, sending him to New Jersey for Jason Collins in a deal that is expected to be completed Monday.
The Grizzlies struggled through an NBA-worst 22-60 record last season and were hoping to land the No. 1 pick in the draft to select Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, but wound up lottery losers and had to settle for the No. 4 pick, ultimately taking Ohio State point guard Mike Conley.
Despite Rudy Gay's emergence and Conley's improved play lately, the Grizzlies have won just 13 of 46 games and now appear set to compete with Seattle, Minnesota and Miami for the league's worst record and a few more pingpong balls in preparation for a 2008 draft.