Lakers’ Post-Kobe Era Starts This Summer… By Trading Bynum & Pau

The Lakers are looking at some big decisions to make this summer, and all of it comes down to money and winning (with money taking a much bigger role given the upcoming tax changes starting in 2014/15). I’ve started crunching numbers, trade scenarios, and new possible directions for the Lakers to explore, and I’m gonna give you the rundown here:
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It’s fairly obvious to see that Kobe, Bynum, and Pau take up something like 75-80% of the Lakers’ salary totals (new signings, trades, and/or waived players notwithstanding) in the 2012/13 season. The upcoming tougher CBA tax rules are going to make this impossible to work with, as does the increasing frustation of the Lakers’ chemistry issues. 1 or 2 of the ‘big three’ must go and it’s looking like Pau is definitely on his way out, with Bynum a likely 2nd mover.
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If no big trades can be worked out the Lakers still have their Amnesty Provision they can use on a player, and although earlier in the season Metta World Peace was the top candidate his recent resurgence as of late probably saved his ass. I think the team will use the AP on Pau if they can’t get something done, although if they let him go and don’t have a truly solid back up PF (Jordan Hill is doing well but not starter potential yet, McRoberts ain’t going to cut it) then they’ll just be shooting themselves in the foot.
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Ramon Sessions is the first big question of the summer. He was a great trade for the team with faster feet than Fisher and a truer PG set of skills, but his defense has been lagging and he’s not very aggressive on creating his own shot. He’s also pretty solid on driving the lane for throw-in layups, etc. but has mostly deferred to his bigs and Kobe. He’s still got room for growth and wasn’t given much time to really ‘gel’ with the team, but I think he’s done pretty well all things considered.
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Ramon intends to opt out from his player option of $4.6 million and test free agency waters– a smart move considering this season showcased him as a starter and he feels he’s worth more. The Lakers seem prepared to offer him more than the $4.6 mil for next season, but probably saving anything beyond a ‘notable’ increase for going after bigger stars (and build out their pretty slim bench too). I’d expect the Lakers to offer no more than $6.5 million for next season, and that’s if they really believe he’ll be worth the 1st round pick (oh yeah and Luke Walton & Jason Kapono, HAHAHAHAHA) they gave up for a year of his services. At the $5.5 and $6.5 mil offers he can net between $24.6 and $29.1 mil over 4 years, but if you start getting into the $7.5 mil range you’re looking at over $33 mil for that same time– numbers that will be hampered even more by the big luxury tax bloodbath of 2014/15.
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Believe it or not Andrew Bynum is question no. 2, not Pau, who’s more of a certainty at no. 3. He’s had a monster year in raising his ability to a whole new level, but continues to act like an immature ass more interested in his stats and money than winning. The talks surrounding Bynum for Dwight are starting up again, as they’re the only two top tier big men in the league (players like Roy Hibbert and DeMarcus Cousins are still in the 2nd tier but keep boosting their stock each year).
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Dwight’s drama in Orlando is seemingly endless, and the recent firing of (now former) Coach Stan Van Gundy and (now former) GM Otis Smith is leaving even more questions than answers. Are the Magic really trying to appease Dwight? Will he stay past this season? Would bringing in any stars help, and is that even possible given the cap space limitations the Magic are facing (damn you Hedo Turkoglu and your poisonous contract!). The Magic SHOULD make a trade given the need for new air and talent. Keeping Dwight is just a band aid, and although Bynum’s got attitude he’s probably ready for a new setting as well. The dance needs to end for both teams with their enamorment with their star big men, and a one for one trade has never made more sense. Furthermore, the Magic MIGHT be able to convince Bynum to take a bit less in his new contract next year, but at least for now would end up paying $2.8 million less by trading for him.
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From the Lakers’ perspective IF both teams re-signed their swapped players (Bynum on the Magic, Dwight on the Lakers) for just a $7.5 mil increase that would amount to paying over $12 million more for Dwight over 4 years. However, IF (more likely) the big guys each want a bump up to $25 mil starting in 2013/14 that goes back to the same $2.8 million more to have Dwight (because Bynum would probably demand the same). In other words, other than Dwight being 3 years older it would be DEFINITELY in the Lakers’ interest to make a major push for the trade. If the Magic started pushing hard to toss in Hedo for a ‘friendlier’ contract (one that’s close in 2012/13 salary but just for 1 year) we’re still in the power position to tell them ‘fuck off, we’ll go after Dwight as a free agent before the 2013/14 season.
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Now we’re looking at ‘The Pau Gasol Question’. Pau has been stellar in his first few years, even with his occasional ‘soft’ labeling and concerns about ‘taking over’. However, his back-loaded contract is coinciding with the latter point in his career, where the question of ‘is he worth $40 mil for 2 more years?’ is just getting louder. This first trade was one that almost came to fruition earlier this year, where we’d give Houston their much-coveted star big man for a solid PF and budding star PG (a need that was lessened when we traded for Sessions). The good news is that Houston seems willing to re-visit this trade now their season is over. Goran Dragic has grown into a surprisingly great SG/PG combo, and will likely cost them less than Lowry in the near future. Lowry is still a fantastic player, but suffered a few minor injuries and is looking for a decent bump up in 2 more years.
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The Rockets are more willing to hold onto Dragic and pair him with a star big in Gasol, which makes Lowry a more negotiable piece now, as well as Scola who (while still quite good and durable) has always been on the table, with his contract making the trade all work. For now, the Lakers need to get an answer out of Sessions before they can even think about pursuing this scenario. There would be no point to having both Sessions and Lowry on the team, with the high likeliness over who would start at PG. Even if we could get them to play well with one coming off the bench the money issue would complicate things severely. We still have Steve Blake for another 2 years at $4 million each, then if we re-up Sessions at $5.5 or $6.5 million and have Lowry at about the same we’d be paying near $11-13 million for two PGs who are relatively interchangeable (though we can all agree Lowry is the superior player). Sessions has the benefit of more time with the Lakers, but Lowry owns in every other category statistically.
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The other two concerns are inside presence and long-term cost. Pushing this trade through would be nice for a one-year savings of $3.8 million, but then Lowry expecting a bigger payday (not even thinking about re-signing Scola for 2015/16) would mean paying another $24 mil or so over 4 years! In other words, we might save more by NOT trading Pau. The last key point to think about is the ‘other big man’ notion. Scola is a pretty solid PF, more physical than Pau on some level, but he’s still got that international style of play that doesn’t intimiate other players. He doesn’t have the same footwork or skill set as Pau, and though slightly cheaper over 3 years (instead of Pau’s 2) he still seems $2-3 mil overpaid annually given his output.
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File this under the ‘you’re betting on David Kahn’s stupidity’ wish list. With the Michael Beasley trade possibility last season falling apart at the last moment, the only upside of that situation was that it showed the T’Wolves were open to talking to the Lakers about trades in general. They’re a great young team that was beset by injuries and a lack of veteran leadership last year, but still have hope for the next few years. Their biggest question has been who’s the next big star on the team? Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio? Neither seems to want to share the spotlight too much (no matter whatever teamwork b.s. they talk about) and the T’Wolves’ unwillingness to offer Kevin Love a 5 year contract (AND give Love an opt-out chance after 3 years!!) signalled their seeing Rubio as their franchise star (they’re saving their big money offer for him).
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Trading Pau for Love sounds like another steal for the Lakers, but there actually is a net benefit for both teams. The Lakers will ultimately have to spend more over the next 4 years, but much of that is the acceptable price to pay for one of the youngest, quickly blossoming big men in the league. He can do it all and he’s much younger than Pau (both have comparably fantastic bball IQ), and Kevin Love is a UCLA native. Pau, on the other hand, will actually play better with his Spanish national team best friend Rubio. He’s not a spotlight hog and after making his big money it’s pretty likely he’ll be fine re-signing in 2014/15 for less so Rubio can earn more and they can play as the true DOS LOBOS in Minny. They have great chemistry in Spain and would likely match the same European playmaking style on the T’Wolves. It would sound crazy for this trade to go down at first, but given a few weeks in the new season both teams would fare very well.
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This is one of the less preferable trade scenarios, but still something that is possible and at least worth considering (very briefly). On the year by year, Boozer will cost less than Pau, and he’s had pretty decent chemistry on the Bulls in a strong inside presence and putting up decent scoring as needed. He’s got a longer contract that yields more cost, but you can probably get backup PG C.J. Watson too who would be the real jewel here. Again, much of it has to do with Sessions first, and also the willingness to get rid of Pau to lessen the annual burden. If Watson proves himself to the Lakers he’d likely want to re-up for a sizable jump, which would then cut into any sort of ‘savings’ we’d have by not trading in the first place.
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This is a more risky trade proposition since if Watson doesn’t measure up to be a starter (and/or just leaves after next year) and Boozer just turns into an expensive slightly-above average PF, then we would have said goodbye to Pau for pretty much nothing. Also, if the Lakers did re-sign Watson at that expected jump that could amount to more than $35 mil for him and Boozer vs. just keeping Pau– a move that seems antithetical to what the Lakers are trying to do.
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There are a lot of gears in motion right now fellas, and it may be up until the end of summer (or beyond) before any of them are set. If the Lakers want to keep Sessions the best moves would be to trade Bynum for Dwight and Pau for Love. We recreate a better power-duo on the inside but continue to hope that Sessions will improve his defensive (and occasionally scoring) skill-set.
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However, if they end up not retaining Sessions for one reason or another, then it would be key to secure Pau for Lowry & Scola and then push for the Bynum for Dwight trade. We’d have a less dominant PF in Scola (vs. superstar Love) but Lowry would bolster our defensive backcourt (with Kobe) and perimeter scoring, as well as his aforementioned playmaking (read: assists) abilities. In fact, this may play to a better chance since Dwight’s dominance might be hampered by Love’s rebounding and scoring prowess.
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Either situation would yield dividends if we could pull off the Bynum for Dwight trade. If we can only trade Pau, however, then continuing to utilize Bynum as our starting C would be fine, but I’d warn he’d be a ticking time bomb in terms of his immaturity and entitlement bullshit. There’s also the ‘Lamar Odom’ situation to consider, but that’s a much lower priority (he’ll probably get re-signed by the Lakers at the veteran’s minimum if he really wants back. End of story.).
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3 comments

  1. Chris Ross

    Really nice post here. It’s definitely worth asking if this is it for this era of Kobe and the Lakers. It’s hard to believe with Pau and Kobe not getting any younger that these guys can continue to compete in the ever strong west for an NBA championship. Bynum is going to have to take a huge role more consistently, especially near the end of games but that’s definitely a big if for the franchise considering his comments yesterday. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this Laker team works itself out in the off-season and if they really change up their roster. Also, you think you could take a gander over at my blog post because I would absolutely love to hear what you have to say http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/cant-build-around-bynum/

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