In his desire to trade Pau Gasol, the GM of the Los Angeles Lakers should not have insisted on receiving Dion Waiters or a first-round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nobody has overpaid for a rental since Ernie Grunfeld sent Ray Allen to Seattle for Gary Payton — and that was a long time ago.
Kupchak should have lowered his demands to match the team’s expectations. The Lakers are done for this season and should be singularly committed to one agenda: Making sure this rare down period for one of the NBA’s most storied franchises doesn’t last more than one season.
Kupchak should be tanking.
Some of the telltale signs already are in place. The Lakers have a bloated payroll of aging, overpaid players, almost all of them on expiring contracts. Injuries to their stars have hampered their ability to compete on their customary high level. They already are fading fast in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Lakers have used six point guards this season. They have lost seven of their last eight games. During that stretch, they lost consecutive games to Utah, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, three teams who need to lose as much as possible, too.
At the same time, the Lakers own a first-round pick in the 2014 draft, projected to be the deepest in a decade. They have over $30 million in cap room this summer and could have more. And they had an agreeable trade partner in the Cavaliers, who were willing to help Kupchak with his finances for several years.
Kupchak wanted to trade Gasol’s expiring $19 million deal for the disposable $12 million contract of former Laker Andrew Bynum. But another player was needed to make the total salaries match, and Kupchak reportedly wanted a draft pick or Waiters, a young talent who has made some waves in his one-plus seasons in Cleveland.
Simply moving Gasol for Bynum and a bag of hammers would have been a win for Kupchak. Getting rid of Gasol’s salary now would (a) bring the team payroll well below the luxury tax threshold for the first time in seven years; (b) allow the Lakers to avoid the dreaded repeater tax, which carries even stiffer financial penalties for teams that exceed the tax in four out of five seasons; and (c) remove Gasol’s cap hold figure of $20.25 million, making the Lakers immediate players in free agency on July 1 without the need to figure out sign-and-trades.
Would trading Gasol for a player to be instantly waived make the Lakers worse? Yes. That’s the idea, silly. On Sunday, Gasol had 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. And the Lakers allowed a staggering 137 points in a home loss to the Denver Nuggets, who had lost eight of their last nine games and have players yelling at coaches.
Those used to be nightly numbers for Gasol. Not anymore. Over the last two seasons, he has averaged 14.5 points and 8.9 rebounds while missing 34 games. Deep playoff runs and a commitment to international play has made him a very old 33.
The Lakers are 13th in the West. They are the same distance to the bottom of the conference (five games in the loss column) as they are to the final playoff berth. And between them and the pipe dream of the postseason are four teams – Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans and Memphis – who are not tanking.
Tell Kobe Bryant that he already has proved his mettle in returning from a torn Achilles tendon in less than eight months. Tell him there’s no need to take the same approach with the bone fracture in his leg. Tell him not to consider returning until he is absolutely sure he is totally recovered. Then tell him to take another week or two.
Tell Steve Nash that he can stop taking epidurals – which women take for pain while giving birth – because the future doesn’t include him. Tell him you would like to discuss a buyout at a number lower than the $9.7 million he is due next season. Tell him that otherwise, the plan is to use the stretch provision and reduce his 2014-15 cap number to $3.2 million.
Tell coach Mike D’Antoni that he is going to have to endure the same thing he went through his first two years in New York. Tell him that the roster will look like a revolving door for the rest of the season. Tell him the difference is that the superstar here in Los Angeles likes him.
Tell Cavaliers GM Chris Grant that you will take a player other than Waiters. Tell him you will take Jarrett Jack, because with Nash out of the picture you will need a point guard. Tell him you will take Earl Clark, because D’Antoni likes him and he has a team option for next season. Tell him you will take Miami’s 2015 first-round pick, even though it is likely to be in the low 20s. If necessary, settle for a second-rounder.
Or tell Suns GM Ryan McDonough you will give him Gasol for Emeka Okafor’s expiring deal, or Channing Frye, or Gerald Green. You can ask for Alex Len or the 2015 first-rounder you sent to Phoenix for Nash, but you ain’t getting that, either.
Kupchak should be pulling out all the stops to get the Lakers as low as possible in the standings – and as high as possible in the draft. He should be exploring avenues toward making his cap room immediate rather than contingent. He should be targeting top-tier free agents such as Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Zach Randolph or Chris Bosh. He should be thinking about poison pill deals for Evan Turner, Greg Monroe or Lance Stephenson. He should be planning his mid-level exception for Paul Pierce, Rodney Stuckey or even to bring back Gasol.
Kupchak should be tanking.
And he should keep in mind that nothing gets in the way of a tank. Not even Dion Waiters.
TRIVIA: Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek became the third person to be named both Player of the Month and Coach of the Month. Who were the first two? Answer below.