The Lakers are now in full tank mode. If Pau Gasol gets traded, we may see him trying to fit into an actual camouflaged tank as he departs Staples along the 110 freeway. That’s just how blatantly the Lakers need to lose right now for draft positioning in 2014.
The Lakers mortgaged their future to get Steve Nash from the Suns. They traded away their first round picks in 2013 and 2015 and second round picks in 2013 and 2014. This is a trade that displays a staggering amount of poor vision–and it’s a shocking mistake for such a perennially successful franchise to make.
Teams like the Lakers and Celtics have historically stayed great by outsmarting the lesser teams. While the Lakers are gnashing their teeth right now because of Nash, the Celtics proudly continue this tradition by committing highway robbery over the Brooklyn Nets. This past offseason, they traded away fading stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and also Jason Terry in exchange for first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018 as well as a few average players to make it work under the salary cap. I wonder if Danny Ainge also asked them if they also wanted to buy a Bridge in Brooklyn?
This is the type of roster heist that has enabled the Lakers and Celtics to win a combined 33 championships. Think of 1980, when the Celtics pillaged the Warriors with a trade where the major pieces were the first pick of the draft to the Warriors, which was used on Joe Barry Caroll, in exchange for Robert Parish and the third overall pick that was used to draft Kevin McHale. Joe Barry Caroll for Parish and McHale? Ouch! Or think of the 1996 draft, when the Warriors chose Todd Fuller with the 11th pick, and then Jerry West and the Lakers chose Kobe Bryant two picks later? The Nash trade is just not like the others here.
After the Nash trade, the Lakers lost their first round picks for both last year and 2015. All they have now is their first round pick for 2014, but, fortunately for the Lakers, last year’s draft class is starting to look like one of the weakest ever, and the 2014 draft is being talked about like one of the best ever. Only the Lakers could have such a nightmare trade be accompanied with this type of luck. For example, a few weeks ago Anthony Bennet, the number one overall pick of the 2013 draft, was rumored to be going down to the D league. When was the last time you saw that about a number one overall pick?
The first five picks of the 2013 draft were Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, and Alex Len. The rookie of the year this year will most likely be the 11th pick, Michael Carter-Williams. Compare this to a draft loaded with can’t miss stars like the 2003 draft, where the top five picks were: Lebron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. While it’s still too early to definitively judge the 2013 draft or compare it to the upcoming draft, consider that the first five picks for 2014 are projected by Draft Express to be: Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, and Dante Exum. While I’m no draft expert and I am pulling for Bennett to succeed –I loved his game at UNLV and he has been making progress the past two weeks–in ten years , it’s likely the players from the 2014 draft will have made a much larger mark in the NBA.
So the Lakers must now lose as many games as possible this year and hope the ping pong balls land their way. From here, they will hope to sign a big name free agent next season and then wait for it all to come together.
This brings us to real reason why the Lakers gave Kobe the gigantic contract extension of 2 years, $48.5 million this season, even before he played a game after his Achilles surgery. The writing was on the wall that the Lakers were going to have a tough season this year. But if Kobe were to come back from the Achilles injury and have even a modest season, and play approximately 50 games, he would have been on pace to break Abdul Kareem Jabbar’s all time points record in the last year of this extension.
Bryant currently trails Jabbar by 6,687 points. Because he played only six games this season, the record is now out of reach in the time this contract extension covers. If Bryant had scored even 1,500 points this season, he would have been approaching the record at the end of this contract extension. This would have been a big story, and would have brought a windfall of attention and cash to the Lakers. This type of hype would have been the perfect way to distract the Lakers’ fan base from the losses that come during a rebuilding stretch. But the way things are, three years from now, when the Lakers could be rising again, they will have to decide if they can carry a 38 year old Kobe on his way to the points record. Or even more likely, if Kobe would accept less money or be willing to come off the bench.
Leave it to the Lakers to fall like this, but still have a chance to land on their feet. With Jabari Parker, Kobe Bryant, and then a marquise free agent from this coming class, they could be back in business next season. I could also see them making runs at signing Klay Thompson and trading for Kevin Love, both of whom spent time in Los Angeles for college or high school.
As Nash fizzles out and Kobe sits out, it’s obvious that plan A and plan B have not worked. It’s comical that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak recently said he has “no regrets” for the Steve Nash trade. If he really feels that way, I have a feeling Danny Ainge will be knocking on his door very soon.
But now the Lakers don’t need to worry about plan A or plan B, they have plan T to execute: Tank. Jerry West, the man who drafted Kobe Bryant, traded for Pao Gasol, and signed Shaquille O’Neal must be smirking in his new job as a consultant for the Warriors. If Lakers fans are experiencing extra bad traffic around Staples, I would check the ground for the track marks of a Sherman Tank. It’s their hope right now to salvage some very poor decision making.