The Los Angeles Lakers are in a precarious position going into the 2012 offseason.
The window on Kobe Bryant's Hall-of-Fame career is closing, and there appears to be holes in the lineup that are holding back the prominent club from a return to the NBA Finals.
Pau Gasol may have played his last game as a Laker.
Los Angeles seems poised to make a major move to get younger and better right now, or risk wasting the final years of Bryant's prime.
Many fans will remember how they attempted to upgrade in the offseason with a deal that would have sent Lamar Odom to New Orleans and Pau Gasol to Houston, in exchange for Chris Paul. But commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal and the Lakers were forced to ship an unhappy Odom to Dallas.
The Lakers are obviously going to keep Bryant. He is one of the biggest draws in the NBA and is one of the few players in the league truly capable of winning a game single handily. It is almost unimaginable that the Lakers would deal him.
To make a serious move this summer, the Lakers will likely have to move a big piece and that appears to be Gasol.
The Lakers enjoyed immediate success with Gasol from the moment he arrived. Los Angeles made three trips to the NBA Finals in his first three seasons with the team, winning two of them.
Now the big man is 31 and is coming off a season in which he posted career lows in points (17.4), blocks (1.4), and field goal percentage (50.1), all while 24-year-old Andrew Bynum has emerged as a force in the front court this season.
Ideally, the Lakers would keep both Bynum and Gasol, but general manager Mitch Kupchak will have to give up someone with a lot of upside to get something valuable in return.
Teams like Houston and Philadelphia may be interested in moving for Gasol. Both look like they are ready to make changes and both have far too many guards and are lacking and the power forward and center positions.
Philadelphia can offer the Lakers a player like Andre Iguodala, and other pieces. Iguodala has been a key contributor for the 76ers, but Philadelphia could give more time to Thaddeus Young. Gasol would be a great addition for a club that needs to compete with the bigger Eastern Conference teams.
Houston have maintained interest in Gasol since the initial trade rumors. The Rockets need help up front and could offer the Lakers Luis Scola, and Kyle Lowry. Houston would get their big man, and the Lakers would upgrade the point guard position, while saving much-needed cap space.
Another possible destination for Gasol is Atlanta. The Hawks have made the playoffs five-straight seasons only to be knocked out early. The roster has been stagnant and team management probably needs to consider making massive changes.
The Hawks could be persuaded to part ways with Josh Smith, who is in his last year of his contract, and had reportedly asked to be traded at the trade deadline. But to make the money work the Lakers might also have to take a player like Zaza Pachulia and that could be a problem for both rosters.
USA Today reported that Gasol and the Chicago Bulls are interested in a move. But taking a look at what the Bulls could offer, it seems as though they may need to add a third team.
Chicago would like to move Carlos Boozer out and replace him with Gasol, though the Lakers would probably be reluctant to make a deal for a power forward who is barely younger than Gasol, and rather limited in offensive moves. To make a possible deal work, the parties might need to add another team who would be willing to take Boozer's contract for picks, while offering the Lakers a young player.
Though Kupchak may want to pull the trigger on a deal, the market may not offer him acceptable compensation. NBA teams are interested in helping the Lakers out after so many years of success.
In a town where an NBA title is the only acceptable result to a season, Kupchak will have to find a way to get the Lakers among the West's elite again.
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