Pau Gasol #16 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 16, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Lots of random thoughts on the Los Angeles Lakers:
* Half the time, I don’t even know who plays for the Lakers. I turn on the TV, and there stands Pau Gasol and a bunch of strangers in purple and gold. I’m not sure the Lakers know who’s on the team half the time, either.
* I will say this: The Lakers aren’t any good, but they usually make up for it by playing hard. Given what’s on the roster (or not on the roster), coach Mike D’Antoni has done a pretty good job keeping people motivated.
* Other than that, not a whole lot has gone right for this team. I think signing Kobe Bryant to a two-year extension was the first mistake. That was a move to keep fans happy. The Lakers are terrified of their fans. But you can’t let fans run the franchise.
* According to sources, that’s why the Lakers were unable to work out a trade involving Gasol with the Cavs — the Lakers feared negative feedback if they didn’t get a scorer, center or point guard in return. The Cavs weren’t about to give up any of that, and neither will anyone else. Gasol is still a nice player, but keeping him (if the Lakers do), will be the second mistake.
* Don’t misunderstand. I admire Bryant, and like Gasol and think Lakers fans are awesome. But the Lakers need to mail in the season. They need to slash (Gasol’s) salary. They can actually get something for him — as opposed to watching him just walk away for nothing at season’s end (although no longer having to pay a guy $19 million is sometimes reward enough).
* Yes, I know, I just said you can’t let the fans run the franchise. And here I am, telling the Lakers what to do. You can’t let the media run the franchise, either. So I have no excuse for my behavior. I’m just throwing out thoughts here. Hard to believe it’s an actual full-time job, huh? Someone pays me to do this. Feel free to hate me.
* Anyway, back to Kobe. If I’m Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, I wait until at least March to give Bryant an extension. I mean, the Lakers could have at least waited until Bryant returned from his ruptured Achilles (and now, knee injury). I understand that Bryant IS the Lakers. But this is a business, and your only job is to win. I’m not sure keeping a 35-year old guard who’s suddenly injury-prone is a means toward that end.
* That said, I do see at least some benefit to keeping Bryant in the mix. He can act as a coach on the floor. He’ll probably still be good for 14-16 points for the next couple of years. He’s also a player who a lot of younger guys (who aren’t yet Lakers) will look up and listen to. But is that worth what the Lakers will have to play him? They say yes. I say â¦ eh, maybe.
* So how would I fix the Lakers? Well, you have to start by trading Gasol within the next month. Get something, anything for him. You’d have to take back some salary, but the priority would be a first-round pick. This is a good draft for the Lakers to get in on. And by "draft," I mean "lottery." The Lakers will be in the lottery anyway. They may as well aim for more ping pong balls in the hopper.
* Kupchak said the Lakers will never "tank." I respect that. Their philosophy is to put the best team on the floor as humanly possible, that your fans deserve at least that much. And I think way too many GMs try to cover their butts by saying they have tons of "assets." Well, anyone can say they’re going to be good in six years. If I was a paying fan, I’d respond with: "OK, I’ll buy a ticket when you cash in. Until then, I’m going to the movies."
* Yes, I just contradicted myself. I said the Lakers should tank, then said teams owe their fans the best possible product. But you can do both. Unlike a lot of franchises, the Lakers can make a quick turnaround by trading for a draft pick(s), ridding themselves of Gasol’s contract and getting in on free agency. This is a great summer for both the draft and free agents. Imagine the Lakers adding Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart in the draft and, say, Carmelo Anthony in July. That seems like a pipedream, but hey, it’s worth a shot. Basically, do you think fans would go for winning 27 games if they felt like an offseason similar to that (or better) could happen? I sure do.
* I admit, I just sort of breezed through this without actually fixing anything. But former NBA GM Wayne Embry once said "sometimes you need to take a step back to get better." That appears to be where the Lakers are today. The first step is admitting they have a problem. After that, things can be rectified quickly. I’m just glad it’s not my job to repair it.