Lakers vs. Celtics? How Did We Get *Here*?
My goodness. How did this happen?
Just think about where we were on June 23:
- The Celtics were heading into the draft with the no. 5 pick after a disastrous Draft Lottery, coming off a 24-58 season, second-worst in the league.
- Kevin Garnett's agent had just been quoted as saying, "The Boston trade isn't happening. If a trade were to happen, that's not a destination that we're interested in pursuing."
- Meanwhile, the bootleg video clip showing Kobe Bryant disparaging Laker management and Andrew Bynum had just surfaced a few days earlier.
- Longtime Kobe-watcher Ric Bucher had just stated on the Bill Simmons podcast that he thought there was a 0% chance of Kobe suiting up for the Lakers in 2007-08, following Kobe's trade request.
- Even with Kobe, the Lakers seemed to have a roster destined for another first-round exit in the stacked West.
And now, barely seven months later, we can all write that there's a distinct possibility of the NBA's dream of all dreams - a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals - and it's not insane to do so. Amazing.
Beyond the two lopsided blockbusters, it's amazing how Bynum has developed with stunning swiftness this season, to completely change the public perception about whether he should be traded. And certainly, a big reason that the Lakers can now be considered legit contenders is because of their competition's struggles: the Spurs look quite old all of a sudden (always a dangerous thing to say before March, but still), the Mavs certainly don't look as formidable as last year, and the Suns are slowly start to feel the bleeding of the Sarver Administration's budget restraints (they certainly ain't getting better under the new regime).
MITCH AND THE POKER PLAYER
Mitch Kupchak has been lambasted so often, basically because he's not Jerry West, and it's about time he got some credit.
He now has a roster with 11 genuine potential contributors. Kupchak inherited Kobe Bryant when he took over in 2000. Here's how he acquired the other 10:
Luke Walton (32nd, 2003)
Sasha Vujacic (27th, 2004)
Andrew Bynum (10th, 2005)
Ronny Turiaf (37th, 2005)
Jordan Farmar (26th, 2006)
Incredible value for the pick for each of these guys. A potential superstar with a 10th pick, and four contributors after the 25th pick. Exceptional.
Lamar Odom (acquired for Shaq)
Pau Gasol (acquired for Kwame Brown, J. Crittenton, M. Gasol, pick)
Trevor Ariza (acquired for Brian Cook, Maurice Evans)
The Gasol acquisition erases the one major mistake - Caron for Kwame. And probably the best Kupchak trade was the one he didn't make - withstanding the pressure and temptation to deal Bynum for Jason Kidd.
V. Radmanovic (2006)
Derek Fisher (2007)
OK, so Fisher fell into the Lakers' lap, and the Vlad-Rad signing has been well short of spectacular, but the space cadet is probably still a good value at the mid-level.
As much as anything, though, credit needs to go to Jerry Buss. It sure looks like the high-stakes poker player made the right calls after all. He withstood the pressure to give Shaq a contract extension, and made the unpopular decision to trade the big fella. It was a no-win situation, as Buss had to watch the Diesel earn a ring in South Beach (I still think the title makes the trade worth it for Miami, despite their dismal '07-08), but I don't believe Shaq would have been nearly as motivated to turn back the clock on his career without the trade.
But now, would you rather have Lamar Odom, age 28, and Pau Gasol, age 27, or Shaquille O'Neal, a month away from age 36? It's been an expert job of getting the Lakers back to what appears to be championship contention so quickly, orchestrated by Buss and executed by Kupchak. Go get yourself some more co-ed arm candy, Dr. Jerry, you've earned it!
WALLACE'S WORST MOVE EVER?
Please voice your opinion on the topic above....
Memphis GM Chris Wallace must have made his former mentor Rick Pitino proud with Friday's doozy of a deal. I don't really have a lot to add to the commentary that's already out there, other than saying that I'm never really a proponent of trading talent (a 27-year-old seven-footer nonetheless) for cap space, esp. if you're something less than a free-agent hotbed. Though I will say that Marc Gasol looks much more like a decent prospect than he did even a couple years ago. Still....