After ruminating on the subject over the weekend, I have some more thoughts on the trade that has brought Pau Gasol to the Lakers.
It is fairly clear that this is one of the most one-sided trades in history. Let's face it - Kevin McHale was eviscerated for trading Garnett and 'only' receiving Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green and two first round picks. That's 60% of the Wolves starting lineup AND two first rounders. (I'm not counting Theo Ratliff or Kwame Brown as both of them brought exactly the same thing to the deals.) Meanwhile, the Grizzlies got... Javaris Crittendon, who would appear to be their third string point guard right now. Chris Wallace is saying that he essentially got 4 first rounders for Pau - he's counting Crittendon and Marc Gasol, in addition to the Lakers' picks in 2008 and 2010. Gasol was drafted in the second round is now playing like a first rounder in Spain. (Indeed, Marc has been the best big man in the ACB this season - better than Tiago Splitter.) But given that Crittendon was picked 19, while the future Laker picks figure to be in the mid to high 20's, sure, it's 4 first rounders, but it's zero lottery picks. There's a huge difference. The 28th pick is like getting a second rounder, but having to pay him guaranteed money. The worst of both worlds. Besides, if Wallace is allowed to say he traded for 4 first rounders, then McHale can say that he traded for 6 first rounders. Clearly Chris Wallace did not do this deal from a basketball perspective.
Of course if you trade for a player like Al Jefferson, you defeat the cost-cutting purpose of the deal to a large extent. After all, Jefferson will make $11M next season and is owed $65M over the next 5 seasons. If you're an NBA team, would you rather pay $23M to Garnett, $11M to Jefferson or $0M to a future first round pick? For Michael Heisley, we see what the answer is. That's the irony of all this of course - the hapless team wants to trade their highly paid superstar to save money and in return they are hoping for a young player who in the best case scenario will turn into - a highly paid superstar.
In the NBA world of haves and have nots, there is a tendency to look at this trade (and the KG trade as well of course) with suspicion. The Lakers and the Celtics, returning to relevance, with the help of Kevin McHale and Jerry West colluding behind the scenes, or maybe David Stern orchestrated the whole thing. But you have to look at the other side of the equation as well - the Celtics and Lakers each decided to take on massive payrolls, including big luxury tax penalties, for basically as long as they keep these superstars. The marketing prowess of those marquee franchises makes it financially feasible to do so, but there are other teams who could have taken on Gasol's contract (I'm looking at you Chicago) but chose not to because of the expense.
Personally, I look at the Damon Stoudamire signing as a more ominous sign. The salary cap and the luxury tax and simple free market economics should work to keep the league competitive over time (with a slant towards larger markets, to be certain). But it's the players that sign below their market value in order to join a winning team that skew the balance and allow the strong to get even stronger. Yes, in the Gasol trade a non-playoff team just got much worse in the short term while a playoff team got stronger. But at least each franchise is paying the corresponding price. In the case of Stoudamire, he'll be trying to win playoff games while being paid the bulk of his salary by the moribund Grizzlies. That irks me. (Not that there's anything to be done about that. Veteran players who have earned seven or even eight figures over the course of their careers can afford to chase a ring with the best team that will have them.)
Back to the one-sided nature of this trade. Several teams have decided to trade highly paid 'superstars' in recent years, and in many cases have wanted little more than salary cap relief in return. But unlike Stephon Marbury or Allen Iverson or Steve Francis or Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol is, if anything, underrated. We are talking about a guy with a career PER over 21, in the top 15 among active players. Has his performance been slipping? Hardly - his PER after coming back from his injury last season was over 24, and he's at 20.5 so far this season. And he's only 27! Nor is he considered a disruptive or negative influence on a team, as was the case with Randolph and Iverson. The guy is a leader, and indeed led Spain to the World Championship in 2006. Manu Ginobili is revered for his leadership at the international level - Gasol somehow ends up as unpopular in Memphis, and gets traded for a slew of late first rounders. I don't get it.
It of course remains to be seen how this works out. I can recall not so long ago that everyone believed that a couple of unfair transactions had made the Lakers the de facto NBA champions. But Karl Malone got hurt, Gary Payton turned out to be over the hill, and instead of a 4th ring, Shaq got a one way ticket to Miami (where he got a 4th ring). So don't give the Lakers the trophy just yet. In particular, trying to put Gasol and Bynum and Odom on the floor against the Suns is going to be dicey. Sure, they may overpower the Suns on one end - but the Suns may just run by them on the other.
Finally, there is the impact of this trade on ClipsNation. What impact is that, you say? Why do we care what happens to the Lakers? At some level, the NBA is a zero sum game. Only one team can win the championship, only eight teams per conference make it to the playoffs, etc. But judging from the comments on this blog, this trade seems to effect Clippers fans more than say if Utah had acquired Gasol.
It is a very human tendency to allow jealousy to make us unhappy. If you have more than one child, you know this to be true. ClipperZoe will be reduced to tears to learn that ClipperMax got something - really anything - that she did not get. It's the perceived injustice of it all. "It's not FAIR!"
I think it's safe to say that we all felt a little schadenfreude this summer as Kobe tried to blow up the Lakers. Unfortunately, there is not an equivalently wondrous word to describe what we are feeling now. If schadenfreude is joy at the suffering of others, then maybe we're now feeling freudenschade - suffering at the joy of others. At any rate, envy is not really strong enough. I just made up freudenschade, but I think it captures it nicely.
Rivalries are a funny thing. (And in the case of the Clippers and the Lakers, it has been so entirely one-sided over the years that it could hardly be called a rivalry.) Citizen Zhiv, the UCLA fan, no doubt has some very negative feelings towards USC. I'm sure there are citizens out there who root for the Trojans and feel a visceral hatred of the Bruins. And that rivalry is NOTHING compared to Alabama-Auburn or Texas-Texas A&M. As they say, every Sox fan has two favorite teams - the Sox, and whoever is playing the Yankees. In 04-05 when neither LA team made the playoffs, it was still a good feeling to have finished above the Lakers. In 05-06, when the Clippers were actually still in the playoffs after the Lakers had been eliminated, it was like a dream come true. Even last season, as the Lakers finished a couple games ahead of the Clippers and squeeked into the playoffs, it was no big deal. Especially given Kobe's off-season meltdown, it was easy to envision a brighter future for the LAC than the LAL. At the time Mitch Kupchak looked only slightly less incompetent than Elgin Baylor.
Now? Well, Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar look to be the steals of their respective drafts, and even Sasha Vujacic looks like a player. So despite the emergence of Chris Kaman, it was getting harder and harder to see that day when the Clippers were LA's team - that day we thought had already arrived in May 2006. When Kupchak traded for Gasol that day was pushed into the distant future.
But I'm going to tell the Citizens of ClipsNation what I tell my kids - don't worry about others, worry about you. This trade didn't change a thing. The LA Times was going to dedicate a lot more column inches to Kobe and the Lakers than to Elton and the Clippers, with or without Pau Gasol. As for the zero sum game of the Western Conference, the Clippers have a long way to go before one rival team's improvement is a major impediment. Seriously, is the Gasol trade going to keep the Clippers out of the playoffs in 2009? No, not by itself. And if you think the Clippers would be the best team in the Western Conference next season if not for this trade, I have two things to say to that:
1 - I'd happily settle for a Lakers-Clippers Conference Final and
2 - You need to either increase or decrease your medication.
I'm looking forward to seeing EB playing next to K2 next season. If Shaun Livingston can even approach the player he's supposed to be, he'll be a very good point guard in the NBA. And the Clippers have some pieces they can move around to try to improve the team between now and the beginning of next season. Sure, I like it when the Lakers are bad. But for now I'll settle for the Clippers having a chance to be good.