‘Money’ moves to help the Lakers in 2012

I’d like for you readers to imagine a John Williams score accompanying the opening of this column. Star Wars like music ought to be playing in your head starting in 10 seconds, as you come to the realization that the following tenets cannot be argued when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

On a championship caliber team playing during a truncated season, three of the association’s most talented members saw their efforts thwarted by a virus that poisoned their cause from within. Wildly limited production in 2/5th of their top unit’s operation combined with absent contributions from the reserves overwhelmed this once powerful force, causing what once was a stalwart to become an afterthought.

With that as the backdrop, understand that the Lakers are now almost halfway through the season. I know what I see out on that court, and after looking at the numbers, my eyes are not lying to me. Defensively the team is playing some good ball, and Mike Brown ought to be commended for shoring up that part of this team’s weakness. But offensively, two positions aren’t just dragging this team down, they’re a downright embarrassment.

For the sake of this argument I’ll be alluding to a player, or a position’s efficiency rate. Which isn’t too hard to get your head around. Simply put it’s all the positives (Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) minus all of the negatives (Missed FG’s + Missed Free Throws + Turnovers). It’s mighty hard to argue that there’s some sort of way to doctor the numbers to try and prove a point when it’s as straightforward as that.

By that metric, the Lakers rank 30 out of 30 teams at the PG position and 26 out of 30 at the SF position. Their average rank for the other 3 spots is 4 out of 30.

Which means with the trade deadline coming up it’s time to play Mitch Kupchack or Jim Buss or Jerry Buss and take advantage of the No. 2 ranked SG, the No. 4 ranked PF and the No. 6 ranked C, even if it means giving up one of those guys to improve on the anemic production from the other positions.

When you have a 33-year-old SG in the twilight of his career, but still wildly productive, you should be determined to get something done in order to take advantage of his presence.

The trades range from some small tweaks to major overhauls, but if you look closely, and remove emotion from the discussion, there’s little debate that each of the moves ultimately helps the Lakers.

Before we get to the offers I would extend to other teams, one simple question that I can’t get an answer to: Why have the Lakers not signed any of the productive players from the D-League to 10-day contracts in order to try and upgrade their bench, or even one of the troubled positions in their starting lineup?

PG Justin Dentmon continues to play at a high level for the Austin Toro’s and would be worth a look, as would SF Gerald Green, who’s a member of the D-Fenders, and was just named the player of the week after averaging 28 points-per-game in four contests.

First category – the small adjustments: otherwise known as what the Lakers got in return for Lamar Odom, because remember they have, for about 10 more months before it expires, an $8.9 million exception that can be exchanged for another player.

Trade Exception to Cleveland for Ramon Sessions
Sessions has a player option for nearly $5 million come 2012-13 and you better believe he will pick it up. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving moving forward, meaning a $4.7 million back up isn’t the best use of funds in Cleveland. In the four games Sessions has started for Irving, he’s averaging 18 points and 11 assists while the Cavs are 2-2 with all four games coming against playoff teams.

Trade Exception to Milwaukee for Beno Udrih
It doesn’t take a long memory to conjure visions of Udrih torching Derek Fisher when Beno played for the Sacramento Kings. He’s deft with the floater, nails when finishing at the rim, and his mid-range game would be second to only Bryant on the Lakers roster. When you look at his numbers while starting, they’re better than any PG the Lakers have put on the court in nearly 15 years – 14 points on 50% shooting, with four rebounds and six assists to boot. Why does Milwaukee do the deal? Money. They have Shaun Livingston as a back up at less than half the cost.

Second Category-you have to give something of value up to get something of value in return.

Pau Gasol and Matt Barnes for Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Goran Dragic
This deal could be done tomorrow considering the Rockets were willing to part with those three pieces in the proposed three-way trade that netted the Lakers Chris Paul. Certainly you take a hit going from the most skilled 7-footer in the game to a 6-9 standard PF in Scola. But again, that’s the cost of picking up Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic to plug immediately into the starting lineup at the 1 and 3 spots. Remember Martin is 6-7, Kobe is 6-6 and are interchangeable at the SG and SF positions, and for the 3 points per game you lose at the PF spot, you will gain 19 at the SF with Martin. I respect Daryl Morey, and there was a reason why he was willing to part with Aaron Brooks in exchange for Dragic when he did that deal with the Suns, it just ended up that in acquiring Kyle Lowrey from the Grizzlies, he picked up the best bargain at the PG position in the league making Dragic expendable, and while his shot needs a little work, he’s great at finishing around the basket.

Pau Gasol and Matt Barnes to Chicago for Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and CJ Watson

Watson, another undrafted D-League player who has turned into a great find for the Bulls, would be a big  upgrade at the point for the Lakers. When replacing the injured Derrick Rose, he’s managed to post respectable numbers — 16 points and five assists per game. He’s an athlete, which the Lakers currently lack, and being in a backcourt with a competent SG like Kobe will only see those numbers improve. Carlos Boozer has been hammered in Chicago, and while he has had spells of disappearing, nobody honors Joakim Noah’s offensive game, and often times Boozer finds himself dealing with a double team whenever he sets up on the block. He’s spectacular around the basket, especially with his weak hand, he has a solid mid-range game from 18-feet in, and he can fill in capably for Gasol in the rebounding category. Finally Kyle Korver can shoot. That’s all there is to it. The Lakers would flourish with him at the 3-spot, and his 44 percent mark from behind the arc is no fluke this season, he’s at 42 percent for his career.

Pau Gasol to Atlanta for Josh Smith and Marvin Williams

I can understand trepidation with a move this major. In Marvin Williams you’re taking on what should have been a discard, a mistake, a player taken ahead of both Deron Williams and Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA Draft by a franchise that hadn’t employed a viable PG…ever. That’s the only reason why Williams got his extension, and that’s why he’s overpaid. Because the Hawks are hoping against hope that somehow over the course of this deal, it clicks, and one of the most impressive physical specimens we ever watched play college ball will finally get it, and they’ll be rewarded for their selection. Problem is, it’s not happening in Atlanta. That ship has sailed. I’m banking on Mike Brown and the appeal of the Lakers culture to shake him out of his complacency. Plus, in order to get Josh Smith out of Atlanta you’ll have to take that contract on. Smith makes just $12.4 million per season, a bargain considering they’re taking back $19 million from Gasol. Josh is a perfect fit for the Lakers alongside Andrew Bynum. He’s an athlete, something which the Lakers currently do not have, and he doesn’t need any set plays, he’s able to get his points, by cleaning up others mess. The one must if this deal is done, is to get a ball handling PG on the roster, no matter how poorly they shoot.

Pau Gasol to Milwaukee for Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson and Beno Udrih
Pau would be a godsend for Scott Skiles. He is a dream player for the most demanding of NBA head coaches when it comes to fundamentals and making the right decisions on the court. Alongside a healthy Andrew Bogut, the Bucks would have the most formidable front court in the league and could lean on that advantage to push the perimeter oriented Heat and Bulls in the future. While the Bucks have to give up a budding talent at PG in Brandon Jennings, he’s already hinted at the fact he’s not interested in Milwaukee for the long term, at least the Lakers would pay the premium by taking two rather awful contracts off their hands in order to finally get a potential elite PG in their lineup. Some might wonder why Drew Gooden wouldn’t be included in the deal instead of Udrih, and the answer is simple because Mitch Kupchack would be insane to take on three more years and $20 million more in order to get this deal to work. The $18 million owed Jackson/Udrih next season combined is plenty enough to pay in order to get Jennings in the fold, and Udrih is big enough to supplant Kobe or Jennings as the primary sixth man in the backcourt and would be a substantial upgrade over either Derek Fisher or Darius Morris. The Lakers also keep their exception for a team that would be willing to shed the contract of an unwanted big to help fill the void left by the departure of Gasol.

Third Category-KABOOM!

Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson
Talk about a makeover. The Lakers give up two of the 15 best players in the league to take on the best big man in Dwight Howard, one of the worst contracts out there, and a very intriguing young “stretch 4”, thereby completely remaking their front court. All three would become starters along side Kobe and likely Derek Fisher which doesn’t help the situation at the PG spot. Why give up both players for Howard? Quite simply, at this point, I earnestly believe that’s what it’s going to take to get Otis Smith to pull the trigger. Turkoglu is way overpaid, but he’s a good enough passer, and a very good 3-point shooter to fit in to this Lakers lineup that will provide him considerable open looks at the rim. Same goes for Ryan Anderson, who is wildly underrated, and is only getting better with each year in the league. With this deal the Lakers keep their trade exception and can use it for one of the above mentioned PGs (Sessions/Udrih) and by simply putting Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant on the court together, they’re a scary force in the half-court sets that will be a bear to deal with come playoff time. Looking to the future when Kobe’s deal expires, so does Turkoglu’s, meaning the Lakers will be able to continue building around Dwight Howard as they move forward.