With the start of the NBA season right around the corner, it’s become obvious that the Los Angeles Lakers won’t be making any blockbuster deals anytime soon and with the loss of Lamar Odom, there seems to be more questions surrounding them now than in any time in recent memory. You have to admit, as soon as the lockout was over, the Lakers came out like gangbusters with the now infamous three-way trade which would’ve included the departure of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and the arrival of Chris Paul, arguably the best point guard in the league. (Personally, I’ll take D-Will any day) With that one move, they would be able to erase that one defensive deficiency that was exposed during last year’s early playoff exit. Granted, basketball is a big man’s game and the mere fact LA was willing to part with two of the most versatile big men in the game for CP3 proves that they were willing to do anything to fill that glaring void. (No disrespect to Derek Fisher. You’ve been the consummate Laker and I admire how you handled yourself during the negotiations, but you’re getting old, Dude!) What happened next was totally unprecedented and could have changed the dynamics of basketball in The City of Angels for a long, long time.
There seems to be a growing trend in the NBA. Superstars are ganging up with other superstars and creating these mega-teams, geared to battle for basketball supremacy. The problem is that there are only a handful of superstars in the league and if you have the means and opportunity to grab one, conventional wisdom dictates that you pull the trigger immediately. The Lakers know this. How else would you explain departing with both an all-star and the reigning sixth-man of the year? Matching CP3 with Kobe Bryant and a healthy Andrew Bynum still left them as one of the most dangerous teams in the league as well as left them with a formidable nucleus once The Mamba retired. As we all know, The Commish threw a major monkey wrench in that plan and under nation-wide scrutiny, orchestrated a trade may have changed the basketball hierarchy in Southern California. New Orleans traded Paul to the Clippers for G Eric Gordon, F Al-Farouq Aminu and C Chris Kaman. New Orleans also received an additional first round pick to go along with the one that they already have in next year’s draft. Looking back in retrospect, the Commish was correct. The deal with the Lakers would’ve made the Hornets competitive now, but the deal with the Clippers not only brought in some outstanding young players in Gordon and Aminu, but they soon will have the opportunity to take Kaman’s expiring contract off the books and they still have 2 potential lottery picks to boot. I could see why that type of situation could be attractive to a potential buyer. For all the flack he took for voiding the initial trade proposal, The Commish never wavered and in the end, proved to be quite the general manager.
Meanwhile, in the other home locker room of the Staple Center, the Lakers were left bending over, holding their ankles. Having the trade for Paul vetoed was one thing, but now he was traded to a team that shares the same zip code and arena as they do. They were left with having to deal with the aftermath from wanting to part ways with Gasol and Odom. Odom was so distraught that he requested to be traded, which of course LA obliged by sending him to Dallas. This is when things became a little confusing. The initial goal was to get either Paul or Howard, if not both. The trade for Paul fell through so the next viable option was to go after Howard. Realistically, Orlando has to know that Howard will not be re-signing with them, regardless of what tune he may singing this week. The bottom line is that the Lakers had already tried to trade Gasol and Odom for Paul, so why not try to package Odom with Bynum or Gasol for Howard, even if it meant taking on Hedo Turkoglu’s contract (I believe that Hedo still has some game left). Instead, LA decided to dump Odom for a first-round pick and an $8.9 million trade exception. Was it just a coincidence that Orlando then publicly announced that Howard was no longer on the market? Now that Paul has teamed up with Blake Griffin, Howard would be wise to take his talents to Brooklyn and join forces with Deron Williams. After all, owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who is worth about $18 billion according to Forbes magazine, has definitely demonstrated that he’s willing to do what it takes to bring a championship to the five boroughs.
Back in the other locker room, The Clippers have loaded up by adding Caron Butler and Chauncy Billups to go along with Paul and matched the Golden State offer for C DeAndre Jordan. These are significant moves considering that soon they will need something tangible if they are going to have any shot of re-signing Griffin. All signs are pointing towards a bright future. On the other hand, The Lakers will start the season with an aging Bryant, a disgruntled Gasol and Bynum, who by the way will be missing the first five games due to a suspension levied against him for his assault on JJ Barera.
You can’t blame the Lakers for what transpired over the past two weeks. They knew they had a major hole at the point guard position and by all accounts they did what they had to do to address that issue in a major way. Little did they know (Or anyone else for that matter) that The Commish would not only void that trade but eventually trade that asset to another franchise in the same city. A franchise that has had two winning seasons since they moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and who just capitalized on The Lakers misfortune. The Clippers may have the upper hand now, but the season has yet to start and until they start hanging banners in Staples, Los Angeles will remain Lakertown. Only time will tell if there will be a changing of the guard.—Mike A. Layne