Gasol to the Lakers - Fascinating

I know, I know.  It's a Clippers blog.  But I'm really fascinated by this trade.  There's just so many compelling things going on here.  Besides, I even have a couple of Clippers angle to this post.  So I'm not just addicted to the Google referrals.  (Though I did make sure to get 'Gasol' and 'Lakers' in the title of the post; just one more thing... Kobe Bryant.  There, that should do it).

Fascination Number 1 - Why aren't Grizzlies fans in open rebellion?  

3 Shades of Blue has of course been all over this trade since before it actually happened, and they are surprisingly supportive on the deal.  You really should go there if you want the full perspective, but they tend to think that starting over completely was the right thing to do, and that this deal is as good as they were going to get.  I still don't understand why fans in Memphis didn't like Gasol.  What's not to like?

The 'it's not such a bad deal' sentiment is echoed in a thorough post at Hardwood Paroxysm.  The gist: it's not easy starting over, you'll never get equal value for a superstar, flexibility is the key, etc. etc.  I get all that - but Pau Gasol is a 27 year old non-cancer with All Star credentials.  Do they expect to lure a player BETTER than Pau with that cap space?  To Memphis?  Or are they counting on getting a superstar with the 27th pick in the draft?

So I just keep thinking that the Grizzlies could and should have gotten more if they were intent on starting over.  Which leads to fascination number 2.

Fascination Number 2 - Couldn't the Grizzlies have gotten more than they did?

Chad Ford has his take on that subject on ESPN.com today.  It's on Insider, but it's currently available as a Free Preview so hurry over to read it if you are interested but don't want to give the Worldwide Leader your money.  In talking to GMs around the league, Ford heard over and over that those GMs believed, like me, that Memphis could have done better.  Most of them seem to believe that THEY made a better offer.  

He then proceeds to go through 10 teams that he feels could have made offers for Pau.  And you know what?  Most of those deals are either totally unrealistic or don't look as good as the one Memphis got from the Lakers.  Let's face it, if one of the 10 deals you come up with is Elton Brand and the Clippers 2008 pick, well, then you don't really have 10 deals.  Here's what he said about a potential Clippers deal:  

Potential offer:
  • Elton Brand ($15.3 million)
  • First-round draft pick (2008)
Why the deal would have worked for the Clippers: There's a chance Brand will bolt this summer when he has a chance to opt out of his deal.

Adding Gasol would've given the Clippers a solid, younger front line while preserving their flexibility to make other deals. And as a bonus, they would have kept Gasol out of the hands of the Lakers.

Why the deal would have worked for Memphis: Brand is a useful commodity in any scenario, and his contract could have provided the Grizzlies with several appealing options.

If he had decided to return next season, he would have upgraded the team, since he's a better player than Gasol and a better fit on the Grizzlies' front line.

If he had wanted to become a free agent, the Grizzlies could have let him walk (and cleared cap space) or worked out a sign-and-trade with him and another team.

Or he and the Grizzlies could have agreed on a long-term deal to keep him in Memphis.

Also, the Clippers' 2008 first-round pick almost certainly will be a lottery pick of more value than the two picks the Lakers gave the Grizzlies.

Ford maintains this is a good deal for the Clippers because it makes them 'younger.'  And yes, Pau Gasol is a whole 16 months younger than Elton Brand.  In the next breath, he admits that Brand is better than Gasol.  So the Clippers would give up their lottery pick to get worse (but 16 months younger!) for essentially the same money?  You lost me at 'Elton'.  

Of all the deals Ford put together, only Chicago seems to make significantly more sense for the Grizzlies.  So why didn't that one happen?  Well, the Bulls didn't want to pay the luxury tax.  And with Gasol's contract, they would likely go over the threshold even if they kept only one of their restricted free agents, Ben Gordon and/or Luol Deng.  This is where you have to give Jerry Buss credit - he's signing up for multiple millions of extra luxury tax payments to push his team to the next level.  Obviously as evidenced by Chicago, not all teams are willing to do that.  Not even big market, high valuation teams like the Bulls.

The non-deal that really interests me is Gasol to Dallas.  With our brand new salary cap trick of signing and trading dead semi-retired guys, the Mavs could have had Gasol for Keith Van Horn and all the prospects the Grizzlies wanted.  We know Cuban is willing to pay the tax.  And with the versatility of Nowitzki and Howard, Dallas would be a pretty interesting fit for Gasol - you can play him at the 5 and be big, or play him at the 4 and be MASSIVE.  The Lakers on the other hand are kind of locked into playing big with their future max trio of Bynum, Gasol and Kobe.  Whether the Mavericks were interested, or even thought about this tricky KVH trade is anyone's guess.  Which brings me to fascination #3.

Fascination Number 3 - The Lakers just traded a guy who was a coach for the Sixers.

Aaron McKie is being paid $7M this season by the Sixers.  But that money is from a contract he signed in 2001.  The Sixers used the NBA's one time amnesty rule to waive McKie in 2005 and in so doing saved a bunch of tax money.  The Lakers then signed him to a 2 year deal that expired last season.  Since the Lakers never renounced their right to McKie, they could still sign him with no cap ramifications, despite the fact that McKie has been back with the Sixers working as an unpaid assistant coach all season.  Weird.

We're getting more information on this aspect of the trade at this point.  In the Philadelphia Daily News, they talked to McKie, who was caught off guard by the trade, but is happy to pocket the money, and now has to worry about getting into game shape in case he ever actually plays for the Grizzlies (don't count on it).

And Henry Abbott had a great post yesterday on TrueHoop where he went through all of the salary cap holds of all the teams in the NBA.  These are the players that were never waived or renounced (the other Aaron McKie's) who could conceivably be included in a trade.  (Hat tip to Citizen John R for first pointing me to this post.)  My favorite name?  Detlef Schrempf, who according to the Professional Basketball Transactions Archive in October of 2000 "announced retirement, but never officially submitted retirement papers to league."  He's been retired for over 7 years, he's an assistant coach for the Sonics, and he could be included in a trade by the Blazers!  (This all begs the question, what exactly is the point of filing retirement papers?)

In the post, Henry says that the league office as 'frowns' on trades made simply to circumvent the cap rules:

...for the league to approve such a trade, the NBA would have to be satisfied that ... whichever team was acquiring [the player] was doing so to get him to play basketball for them. They frown on retired players moving around on paper just to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement...

That's a really interesting statement and all, but c'mon.  I mean, Terrell Brandon was traded to Atlanta in 2003 18 months after he had played his final NBA game, and everyone knew he was injured and would never play again.  Besides, if you're going to try to apply some sort of 'basketball purposes' litmus test on trade approval, how would you explain the Blazers buy out of Steve Francis before he ever played for them?   Were the Blazers acquiring Francis to play for them?  And who can forget that famous date in Clippers history, 11/15/2001, when they traded for Vinny Del Negro (and then waived him the next day)?  What did they give up?  The right to swap second round picks - which was never exercised.  Why did they do it?  To get over the league's MINIMUM payroll.  Oh, and they also got some cash in the deal.  Good times.  But it sounds a lot like 'players moving around on paper just to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement.'  In fact, it sounds exactly like that.

Matthew from Pounding the Rock asked a valid question about McKie's role in this trade in a post last week:

You know what really pisses me off?  Everyone knows the deal here.  McKie isn't going to play for the Grizzlies.  No one is fooling anyone.  So why not find a single-mother living in a shit hole in LA and sign her to a one-year contract and trade her to Memphis?  McKie, a rich man already, gets richer by doing absolutely nothing.

Remember, McKie is already being paid $7M this season from that long ago Sixers contract.

Neither Matthew nor I are going to address any massive social injustices here.  Suffice it to say that there are obscene amounts of money involved in the NBA, and we have for the most part become inured to it all.  I mean, Aaron McKie just received a bigger pay day than any of us will ever see just so that the guys who make the REAL money could change teams.  And yet, according to a recent article in the Toronto Star, 60% of all players are broke within 5 years of leaving the NBA.  So there's bigger issues in play here.

Fascination Number 4 - It's friggin' hard to rebuild.

In fact, it's almost impossible without some luck.  New Orleans did it, by having Chris Paul fall into their laps with the fourth pick and by getting really, really lucky with David West (drafted 18th).  Portland did it, by getting their own rookie of the year with the 6th pick, winning the next lottery, and having every other pick from Travis Outlaw to Joel friggin' Pryzbilla pan out this season.  Yes, those teams get credit for making some good decisions and drafting well.  But 5 other guys were drafted ahead of Brandon Roy.  Amazingly, Aldridge and Roy appear now to be head and shoulders above anyone else in that draft, and they both ended up in Portland.  Again, great job Kevin Pritchard.  Now send a fruit basket to everyone who drafted ahead of you.

And let's face it, teams are much more savvy about hanging onto their picks than they once were (Isiah Thomas being he exception that proves the rule).  Remember in 1980 when the Lakers (a good team) traded Don Ford and their first round pick to the Cavs (a bad team) for Butch Lee and their number 1 pick two years later?  The Lakers 1980 first round pick was #22 overall (in a 23 team league) and turned out to be a guy named Chad Kinch.  The Cavs 1982 pick was the first overall pick and turned out to be a guy named James Worthy.  Oh, and Don Ford SUCKED.  Bad teams don't trade first round picks anymore.  They don't do it.

Which leads to my final Clippers tie in.  The Cassell-Jaric trade actually gives the Clippers the first round pick of what is now a bad team, though at the time it appeared to be a good team.  Unfortunately, since no one really saw this coming, Elgin Baylor allowed the Wolves to restrict that pick all the way through 2011.  Which means that while the Clippers could end up with an extra top 10 pick, it won't be for another 5 drafts.  So start researching those 14 year olds.  

Of course, the Wolves may be good again by then.  Like I said, you have to be lucky, and that has never been the Clippers strength.

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