Lakers overcome preseason debacle with solid trades at deadline
BY MATTHEW VINSKO, Couchsideshow.com contributor
December, 2011 was a time to rejoice for basketball fans. After 161 painstaking days, basketball was set to commence on Christmas Day with a plethora of games set to kick off the NBA season in style. What wasn’t to like?
But December wasn’t pleasant for Lakers’ fans. No, I’m not talking about the opening day loss to the Bulls in a nail biter; I’m actually one of the few people proud of the Lakers for putting up that much of a fight against the reigning MVP without Andrew Bynum. What made opening day sour for many a Lakers’ fan was David Stern’s controversial overruling of a three-team deal that would have ultimately landed Chris Paul, arguably the best pure point guard in the league, in the same backcourt as ‘The Black Mamba,’ Kobe Bryant.
That was OK, though. For the most part, the same team that won back-to-back titles was intact, albeit two years older.
But it wasn’t OK for Lamar Odom, who was shipped to the Dallas Mavericks for a first round pick in order to clear up salary cap. Odom, apparently the sensitive type, couldn’t stand the thought of being included in the trade that would have sent Paul to L.A. Trading the reigning Sixth Man of the Year for a draft pick can be excused considering the Lakers’ salary cap issues with regards the luxury tax. Financial woes aside, the 2012 draft is already being considered one of the deeper drafts in recent history, so no harm, no foul, right?
But despite all this off-season drama, the Lakers find themselves at 27-16, which is a feat considering the team has a new head coach in Mike Brown, an aging squad, and the emergence of the Clippers as a real threat not only in the Pacific Division, but in the Battle for Los Angeles.
But even on a winning team, it’s easy to find holes. The Heat don’t have a center yet (word is they’ll jump all over Chris Kaman should the Hornets let him go). The Thunder have a power forward who can defend yet remains subject on offense in Serge Ibaka. The Lakers? Last season, Paul tore the team to shreds in part due to Derek Fisher’s age and inconsistency, which made December’s debacle that much more painful. A small forward rotation of Metta World Peace (can we just go back to calling the guy Ron Artest?) and Matt Barnes doesn’t help either; though both have picked it up in recent weeks, neither is the offensive juggernaut the Lakers’ need, especially off the bench.
Trade rumors circulated involving names like Rajon Rondo, Raymond Felton, and even Michael Beasley, but Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak stuck with what the team needed while sticking to his desire to shed cap all the same. Right before Thursday’s deadline, Kupchak dealt away Fisher, Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, and two first-round picks for the Cavaliers’ Ramon Sessions, Christian Eyenga, and the Rockets’ Jordan Hill in two separate trades.
Now a lot of people are ecstatic to be rid of Walton and Kapono, but Fisher and the draft picks? Those are subject to debate, but let’s be real here. Yes, Fisher is a leader for this group of ragtag veterans trying to help Kobe tie Michael Jordan for championships, but he most definitely isn’t the future of the franchise. Fisher is averaging about six points and three assists per game as a starter compared to Sessions’ 10 and five, playing behind rookie Kyrie Irving on a mediocre-at-best Cleveland squad. While I know Fisher will be missed in the locker room, the Lakers’ clearly improved at point guard.
As far as draft picks go, the Lakers and Mavericks were not going to be lottery teams, and the draft is considered a crapshoot anyway. Why not take a chance on a younger group of guys who already have a few years under their belts? Eyenga is a raw prospect, but worth the trouble. Sure, he may be shooting a paltry .158 percent from the field, but he has shown explosive glimpses:
Plus, Eyenga is a lanky defender who can back up Kobe if he ever reaches his potential as a first-round selection. And Jordan Hill? The guy is a definite upgrade over Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy, who have been providing next to nothing off the Lakers’ bench. Though Eyenga and Hill are definitely not stars, they’re worth the risk considering they’re 22 and 25, respectively, while adding depth to a Lakers’ bench that could definitely use it. Even if those two don’t pan out quite how Lakers’ fans hope, trading for them helps the team get rid of Walton’s absurd contract while providing minutes for younger players, including Devin Ebanks.
It’s ironic Fisher, one of the men responsible for helping the league resume operations, got shipped off to a mediocre Rockets team that might end up buying him out. Sure, December sucked for Lakers’ fans, but with a few trades and an influx of younger talent, the team finds itself in a comfortable position long term. And hey, keeping Kobe, Bynum, and Pau Gasol never hurts either, does it?