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NBA Picks and Rolls: The Pau Gasol Heist

Pau Gasol Makes Juan Carlos Navarro Cry

Pau Gasol Photo Credit: Icon SMI

The Kevin Garnett trade of last summer garnered more headlines, and KG is certainly a better player than Pau Gasol, but Mitch Kupchak’s acquisition of the 7′ tall, 27-year-old Spaniard may have a bigger impact on this NBA season. Los Angeles now has as good a shot at an NBA title as any team in the league. Just over a week after they were in first place in the West, the Lakers were suddenly looking like a team in danger of slipping out of the playoff picture in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Not only will Gasol keep them in the heart of the playoff race, but when Andrew Bynum returns Los Angeles could have the best starting lineup in all of basketball. And while this move was obviously a slam dunk for the Lake Show, the deal may not be as bad as it initially seems for Memphis– it could work out like the infamous Hershel Walker to Dallas deal that kick started that franchise. It’s going to take at least a year before we can make definitive conclusions, but let’s break down what we do know now.

First, we know that Juan Carlos Navarro is crying himself to sleep every night after coming all the way from Spain to Memphis to play with his best friend, only to see him leave after half a season. ETB breaks down the rest of the known commodities and ramifications of this epic NBA trade…

The Grizzlies’ Angle:

The Grizz shipped out Gasol for the expiring contract of Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie (who was signed just to make the numbers match), Javaris Crittenton, a 2008 first-round pick (Top-3 protected), a 2010 first-round pick (Top-6 protected), and the rights to Pau’s brother Marc Gasol. Clearly, the returns on the trade for Memphis this season will be negligible. The sentiment in Memphis was that Pau needed to go, that he didn’t fit in with Marc Iavaroni’s new system, that the local fans didn’t like him and wouldn’t pay to see him play, that his defense was poor, and that his career arc and demand for shots didn’t jibe with developing the young players on the roster. Like Garnett in Minnesota, the Grizzlies weren’t going to win a title with Gasol in his prime and they needed to cash in on him while they still could.

More analysis of the Grizzlies future and an in-depth look at the new-look Los Angeles Lakers after the jump…

This is a deal designed for the future of the franchise, a future that Gasol simply didn’t fit into. Memphis now has a ton of first-round picks to play with in coming seasons, which they can trade away or use to draft guys to complement their core of Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Javaris Crittenton, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay and Darko Milicic. Memphis is also making a statement about Rudy Gay here, rightfully declaring him their franchise cornerstone. Gay has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, proving he can score in every possible way while averaging 19.7 points, 6.2 boards, 1.5 steals, 1.8 threes and nearly one block a game on 46.8% FGs and 77.5% FTs. He’s already an All Star in my mind. Gay will now assume more of a leadership role, and should blossom into one of the NBA’s elite forwards in Gasol’s absence.

Rudy Gay and Mike Conley

Rudy Gay and Mike Conley Photo Credit: Icon SMI

He’s talked about like an afterthought, but don’t sleep on Crittenton. The guy has game and is going to be a player in this league. Javaris, the 19th overall pick in the 2007 draft, left Georgia Tech after just one season and has as much potential as any guard taken last year. He’s a big, athletic guard with good range who was drafted as a one but could learn to play the two. He has the kind of court vision that should allow him to share point duties with Conley eventually. Memphis now has an extremely young and talented backcourt of Crittenton, Kyle Lowry, Conley and Navarro. They’ll likely need to ship one of those guys out, but that shouldn’t be hard given how well Lowry has played when given minutes this season (16.2 points, 4.4 assists, 5.6 boards and 1.4 steals in five starts).

Barring a dramatic salary dump from another team before the deadline, the Grizzlies will also have more salary cap space than anybody else in the league heading into this summer, where the unrestricted free-agent pool could feature names like Elton Brand, Antawn Jamison, Allen Iverson, Baron Davis, Corey Maggette, Gerald Green, Shawn Marion and Gilbert Arenas. It’s a good year to have big cap space to play with.

For this season, the departure of Gasol leaves 36 minutes and almost 15 shots per game unaccounted for. The perennially disappointing duo of Darko Milicic and Kwame Brown will share time in the middle, but aren’t of much interest to fantasy owners or NBA fans. The Grizz could go two ways with the remaining four positions (assuming they wouldn’t masochistically subject their fans to a starting lineup featuring Milicic and Brown): 1) Gay can shift to power forward as he did when Pau was injured earlier, with Mike Miller moving to small forward, Juan Carlos Navarro inserted into the shooting guard slot and Conley manning the point when he returns, or 2) Conley at the point, Miller remaining at off guard, Gay staying at small forward and Hakim Warrick being inserted as the starting power forward. Whichever starting lineup Iavaroni decides on, we’ll see plenty of both alignments each game, and Navarro and Warrick become must-own players in most fantasy leagues.

Now that Memphis is bereft of a true low-post presence, we should also look for the Grizz to transition into even more of a running team. Iavaroni wants to model this team after his former squad, the Phoenix Suns, and Memphis will try to make up for the lack of an inside presence by running people out of the gym. They’ll throw all kinds of youth, quickness and athleticism at opposing teams in droves, and while it may not result in many wins this season, it will be a hell of a lot more fun to watch. All of this means that everybody in a Grizzlies jersey who’s involved in the new rotations should also see a boost in fantasy value as not only will Gasol’s 15 field goal attempts per game be distributed, but there should actually be more field goal attempts to go around as there is in Golden State and Phoenix.

The Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant and The Los Angeles Lakers Photo Credit: Icon SMI

The New-Look Lake Show:

While the move makes some sense for Memphis, it takes a little effort to put a positive spin on it for Grizzlies supporters. That’s clearly not the case for Lake Show fans, who should be absolutely ecstatic about the swap. The Lakers come out like bandits, snagging an elite power forward who is one of the top-ten low-post scorers in the NBA and a decent help defender. Sure, Gasol struggles in traditional man defense, but even there I think he’s an upgrade over ole’ Stone Hands Brown.

Starting Tuesday night, the Lakers should feature a starting lineup of Pau Gasol at center, Ronny Turiaf at the five, Lamar Odom at the three, Kobe at the two and veteran Derek Fisher running the point. In two months, it could be even scarier with a starting lineup of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and the twin seven-footer towers of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol down low. That’s gross.

For my money that starting lineup is the best in the NBA, hands down. But one of the reasons the Lakers emerged as a legit title contender this season even before the deal was their bench, one of the best in the NBA. At guard they can bring in second-year Jordan Farmar, a heady player and hard worker who has made significant progress in his offensive game this season, hitting 48.2% FGs and 40% on three-pointers. One of my favorite players, Ronny Turiaf will start while Bynum is on the shelf, but eventually move back to the bench. Turiaf is the definition of hustle, a relentless defender and one of the most active players in the league around the basket. He can spell Bynum and Gasol, and will be joined by capable wing man Luke Walton, a jack of all trades (though master of none) that can hit open jumpers and keep the ball moving. The Lakers will also have a cadre of solid outside shooters to call on at any time that includes Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic.

Lamar OdomEarlier this season Mitch Kupchak also traded for Trevor Ariza in one of the most underrated moves of the season. Ariza is a pure athlete who can smother wing players on defense, run the fast break and slash to the hoop extremely well. I think eventually we should see Ariza in the starting lineup because of his defense and because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. That would move Lamar Odom to the bench, where he would compete with Manu Ginobili as the best sixth man in the league. Odom is going to be asked to perform a Swiss Army Knife role for the Lakers now, sometimes looking for his shot, but more often rebounding and playing point-forward. He could be the leader of an extremely potent second unit that would also potentially become the best bench in the league.

Lamar Odom Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Whenever you add such a big piece mid-season you never know how they will fit in and there will be questions of chemistry. I expect Pau will need some time to adjust to being his team’s third or fourth option after being the clear-cut number one for almost his entire career. Gasol proved in 2005-06 he can be a solid passer though, when he averaged 4.6 assists per game for a very good Memphis team that won 49 games. Tex Winter’s Triangle tends to invert the offense, placing big men at the top of the key and on the elbows, which keeps opposing big men away from the basket. Pau’s offensive prowess should draw plenty of double teams, and he’ll be able to find plenty of capable cutters in Kobe, Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar. Los Angles can now afford to have at least four capable scorers on the floor at all times, making it nearly impossible to double any combination of Gasol, Bryant and Bynum.

The night of the trade Bill Walton was quick to point out that we have no idea what kind of player Gasol is because he’s never been in a big game. I would counter with the fact that Gasol was named the MVP of the 2006 FIBA World Championship, where his Spanish team won the gold medal. He hasn’t seen many big games in the NBA, but Gasol has plenty of big-game experience in myriad European and international tournaments, where he has always played very well.

Word is a number of Western Conference executives were livid about this deal. Not only did Memphis essentially gift an All-Star caliber power forward to an already solid team, they did it in conference. You can’t blame Memphis for not asking for other GM’s blessing on the deal, but that’s usually a no-no. You don’t give players like Gasol away, and if you do, you move them far, far away. The real reason those execs are upset, though, is that Los Angeles is instantly transformed from one of the better teams in the NBA into an elite squad that has the best roster in the NBA on paper. Nobody wants to see these guys in the playoffs.

It’s the year of the All Star team in the NBA. Boston started it this summer when they teamed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with Paul Pierce. Los Angeles has upped the ante by putting Gasol with Kobe, Odom and Bynum. And the Jason Kid sweepstakes are in full swing, with it looking like Kidd will end up with Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard in Dallas or Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony in Denver. And let’s not forget about the Detroit Pistons, who still have current and former All Stars Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace in their starting lineup. With all that talent and star power concentrated on a handful of elite teams, this year’s NBA playoffs are going to be simply amazing. It’s a grand time to be an NBA fan.


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