The Los Angeles Lakers have a serious problem on their hands, and it is not simply their problem in the standings. The Lakers are not winning, and the level of their progress is in doubt as they are quickly in danger of dropping out of the playoff picture.
Optimistically, everyone near the team and on the team blindly believes this team is good enough to make the playoffs and make some noise when they get there. Nearing the half-way point in the season, the Lakers have failed to display anything more than what their record states: this is a losing team.
When Mike Brown was fired, General Manager Mitch Kupchak said the decision was about “wins and losses.” He also talked about the team not making progress. Well, if Kupchak is still being honest with himself, the current team is not making progress and even has a losing record since the messiah, Steve Nash, returned.
Coach Mike D’Antoni has a losing record since taking charge of the team, but firing him is not likely given that he did not have a chance to assemble the roster or a training camp to implement his system. “We Want Phil” chants in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s loss only underlined that this team is not on the right track. The Lakers should have hired Phil Jackson, but that option is long gone at this point.
Considering D’Antoni has consistently alienated Pau Gasol, and there is genuine interest in the Spaniard’s services around the league, the Lakers will likely move the 7-footer. However, if they send Gasol packing, the Lakers also effectively send away their faint hopes at winning a championship this season.
Looking at the current squad, however, a championship is not even a thought. They cannot even beat the Philadelphia 76ers or Denver Nuggets at home. Then why not trade Gasol?
If Pau Gasol gets traded, the Lakers will likely get back a couple players that fit the D’Antoni system. However, what happens if the team does not gel and continues to struggle and misses the playoffs or exits in humiliating fashion?
Would Dwight Howard re-sign with the Lakers? Why would he?
If he chooses not to re-sign with the Lakers and Pau Gasol is exchanged for a stretch four and a back-up point guard, the Lakers could go from a team with two centers to a team with no centers in an extremely short period of time.
Kobe Bryant’s extremely high level of play is currently being wasted, but picturing Bryant play without a center and alongside a 40 year-old Steve Nash is just plain scary.
Considering the way management handled Mike Brown’s firing, Lakers management was probably on the phone looking for trades at halftime of the game against the Clippers. Something needs to change, and unfortunately, the Lakers may be ready to ship out a future hall of famer who brought them two championships and three trips to the NBA Finals.
Gasol is not to blame for this mess, but his $19 million contract may make this a business decision as much as it may be spun as a basketball decision. Losing a team-first guy with championship experience who is also incredibly skilled and multi-faceted may even hurt the team chemistry further.
Something needs to change, though, and all signs point to a Gasol trade. Bringing back Bernie Bickerstaff may be a better option. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen.