To Trade or Not To Trade

By Alex H.
Should I stay or should I go? Both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are the focus of the rumor mill ahead of the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Dwight Howard will not be traded. Pau Gasol is injured again. Ron Artest  Metta World Peace is auditioning for the UFC. Kobe Bryant forlornly looks on. And so continues the saga of the Los Angeles Lakers, a team in the limelight more than any of the celebrities that decorate courtside at the Staples Center.

Despite news breaking on Tuesday that Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak had categorically insisted that Dwight Howard would not be traded before the Feb. 21 deadline, the rumor mill continues to grind on with Superman’s future destination the No. 1 topic of interest.

Howard – who has posted solid numbers while on the court – has not gelled with his teammates since arriving in Hollywood this past summer (not a huge surprise given his behavior in Orlando) and has not fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system (even less of a surprise considering D’Antoni’s system is wrong for the Lakers).

For the big man, a move in July might be the best thing he could do. For the Lakers, a move now might be the best choice.

From the Lakers’ standpoint, Howard is a flight risk. Nobody on this planet would be surprised to see the 7-footer pull a “LeBron” and head for the horizon when free agency begins on July 1. Howard is temperamental (we saw that in Central Florida) and when things aren’t going his way, he wants out. The Lakers know this, so is it not the sensible option to send him packing while there’s still something to be gotten in return?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Now, let’s pretend we don’t live in a world of salary caps and fiscal penalties. When the world is your oyster, where could you send the big man?

First up: Brooklyn.

Remember when Howard was adamant that he was going to play in the Boroughs? Remember when Deron Williams cried like a baby when Howard went to Los Angeles? Well how about we reunite the two. Howard might not have been able to play in the Barclays Center on Tuesday night, but he could play there on a regular basis. Just throw in Brook Lopez – sorry, All-Star Brook Lopez – and a role player to sweeten the deal and we’ve got, well, a deal.

Lopez has really proven to be a valuable commodity over the past two years, but more importantly, he could play alongside Gasol and Bryant quite easily.

Next: Memphis.

How about we pair the Brothers Gasol together? Send Howard to Memphis in return for Marc Gasol – a player the Lakers actually drafted – and put him in the front court with Pau Gasol. And don’t try to tell me these guys can’t play together. Marc plays well with bigs. Just ask Zach Randolph. Of course, Memphis would want no part of this; mainly because Howard resigning with the side this summer would be as likely as the Lakers bench leading the league in second unit scoring. That is to say, absolutely zero.

How about: LA Clippers.

Imagine sending Howard to play with Chris Paul across the corridor. What would the Lakers get in return? How about, DeAndre Jordan (improving) and a pair of role players? Or Blake Griffin? Scratch that; if Paul’s not coming the other way, forget about it.

Next: Boston.

According to Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett’s not on the trading block. Ask him that if Howard’s coming the other way. The Lakers could be truly greedy and ask for both Garnett and Pierce in return, and that would be a deal worth doing. But Garnett and sweeteners (draft picks are good) would be tempting, just to see the hulking mass of Howard go to the right coast. It would be a short team option for Kupchak and Co., but then so could be keeping Howard.

Or…

Is Indiana willing to let Roy Hibbert go? Does New York want to work a deal involving Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd? How about Golden State sends Andrew Bogut and David Lee? We could go on, and if we did, each time things would get that much wackier.

Of course, all of the above is mute because the Lakers feel that the additional $30 million (or so) more the team will be able to offer Howard that opponents’ can’t after July – thanks to the CBA – will be enough of an incentive for him to stay.

It’s far more likely to see Pau Gasol on the trade block (again), but after falling to injury in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, it’s unlikely any team will take a chance on him in the next two weeks. Which means it’s business as usual for the Lakers. Well, almost.

Without the bigs (for however long), it’ll once again be down to Kobe Bryant to carry the team. Forget that week of assists we saw last week, we’re talking 30-a-night Kobe here. And here’s the thing; that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Lakers. Kobe with a chip on his shoulder could be enough to see the Lakers buck the odds and make the playoffs.

Currently 3.5 games behind Houston for the No. 8 spot, would it be that surprising to see the Lakers make a charge? Maybe in the context of this season but certainly not in terms of what we’ve come to expect from Bryant. Then, once the playoffs begin, who’d bet against this whole experiment clicking and the Lakers putting together a late push?