The NBA draft begins Thursday evening, so of course that means Pau Gasol’s standing with the Lakers remains in limbo.
Gasol has felt resigned with uncertainty ever since the nixed Chris Paul trade. Considering that the Lakers fell in the Western Conference semifinals for the second consecutive season, it’s likely that feeling could last all next season — unless the Lakers trade Gasol, of course. The latest scenario, as reported by The Times’ Mike Bresnahan, involved the Atlanta Hawks trying to trade power forward Josh Smith for Gasol. In a separate move, Bresnahan also reported that the Lakers are open to trading Gasol for a high first-round pick because they covet Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
I already outlined a few days ago why the Lakers trading Gasol for a high first-round pick would be a bad choice. Even with this year’s deep draft, the Lakers would experience a heavy drop-off in losing an elite power forward for a talented albeit untested rookie. But in the Gasol-Smith proposal, that’s another story. As with any trade scenario, there are plenty of pros and cons surrounding the possible deal.
Why the Lakers should trade Gasol for Smith: With this deal, the Lakers accomplish several things. They suddenly become younger by acquiring the 26-year-old Smith and ridding themselves of the 32-year-old Gasol. They save plenty of money considering Gasol has a two-year, $38.3 million contract, while Smith has one more year on his deal worth $13.2 million. The Lakers would have to acquire another player from Atlanta to match salaries, but such a scenario would make it easier for the Lakers to lower their payroll. And even if the Lakers lose Gasol’s versatile low-post presence, Smith significantly helps mitigate that absence. He posted career-highs last season for the Hawks in points (18.8) and rebounds (9.6) because of his strong effectiveness at the rim.
Why the Lakers should reject the offer: There are plenty of signs suggesting Smith would just fall apart with the Lakers. He already complained in Atlanta last season over coach and media criticism. How’s he going to handle the glare of the Hollywood spotlight when things go poorly? Smith only shot 45.8% last season from the field? How’s he going to be become more efficient when Bynum’s presence may force Smith only to find open looks away from the basket? How are the Lakers going to respond to Smith when he throws up ill-advised shots as he keeps going through a cold streak?
Verdict: On paper, this move may look fine. The Lakers are still trading size for size. They’re adding speed. They’re also saving money. But Gasol is simply a much better player than Smith. As mentioned before, the best way the Lakers can upgrade their roster could simply involve putting Gasol in a better position to succeed.