Josh Smith and Pau Gasol may be swapping jerseys next season, an entropic move that could improve both teams’ hopes of a 2012 title.
At the start of the offseason, it was reported that the Lakers were aggressively shopping all-star forward Pau Gasol. Per the New York Daily News’ Mitch Lawrence, “The Lakers are committed to moving Pau Gasol — the fall guy for their second-round ouster against the Thunder and previous playoff failures — even if they have to take back less talent.”
The Lakers initially shopped him to the Rockets—for a similar package to the one New Orleans was supposed to get in the Chris Paul deal-that-wasn’t—but the Gasol-Houston marriage once again appears to be star-crossed. The Examiner cites an NBA source who claims the Rockets are no longer interested in Gasol, ending their two-year, coquettish pursuit of the Spanish forward.
But where one trade falls apart, another usually rises in its ashes, particularly when a player as talented as Gasol is involved. New reports have trade talks intensifying between Los Angeles and Atlanta, with Gasol and Josh Smith being the main pieces.
And while this blockbuster would certainly give two playoff teams a drastically new look next season, it’s one that would actually benefit both sides.
How it Helps Atlanta:
The Hawks ended an eight-year playoff drought in 2008, but since then, they’ve essentially been running in place. Their young core was supposed to gradually improve as a cohesive unit, and they were supposed to make a Thunder-esque ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference.
But four years and one coach later, the Hawks are still the same team they were in 2008: too good to make the lottery, not good enough to reach the Conference Finals.
There’s something fundamentally wrong with the Hawks’ current roster, which seeps with talent but still hasn’t found a way to properly mesh as a unit. Swapping Pau Gasol with Josh Smith could be the move that helps them turn that corner.
Smith had one of his best statistical seasons in 2011-2012, posting career-highs in points-per-game (18.8) and rebounds-per-game (9.6). But he still doesn’t have a defined position—oscillating between the two forward spots—and hurts the Hawks with his 46-percent shooting. He’s also a 27-percent three-point shooter who insists on shooting two three-pointers a night, ostensibly wasting three possessions every two games.
Gasol, on the other hand, hasn’t shot below 50 percent from the field since 2004. He’s a deliberate back-to-the-basket player and one of the few big men in the league with a truly advanced repertoire of post-moves. He’s a guy to whom you can toss the ball when your offense has gone stale and count on either a basket or a trip to the free-throw line.
The only area where Smith truly exceeds Gasol is athleticism, but between Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Jeff Teague and Al Horford, the Hawks already have enough athletes to compete.
Speaking of Johnson, he could work well with Gasol in a psuedo-Kobe Bryant capacity. He’ll never be the cold-blooded assassin Kobe is, but he’s one of the top shooting guards in the game. More importantly, he’ll be more willing to defer to Gasol at the end of games than Kobe ever was, giving Gasol the chance to function as the alpha dog––a role he has excelled in with the Grizzlies and the Spanish National Team.
How it Helps Los Angeles:
The Lakers looked old, slow and lethargic in getting bounced by the Thunder in the 2012 Playoffs, and Mitch Kupchak is well aware of the youth-infusion his roster needs. God only knows how long Kobe’s magical knee surgery will hold up, and they need a young, bouncy athlete who is willing to run the floor.
Enter Josh Smith.
Smith is one of the five most gifted physical specimens in the league, a guy who affects the game on both sides of the ball with his length and timing. He’s the basketball equivalent of a five-tool player, boasting impressive career averages in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. He’s also willing to run the floor on the wing, as opposed to Gasol, who only runs as a trailer. This would allow the Lakers to score more frequently on the primary break instead of hoping for a defensive lapse on the secondary break.
More than anything, and in stark contrast to Gasol, he’s a guy that can guard all three frontcourt positions. This would give the Lakers’ closing lineup defensive flexibility against small lineups and the chance to let Kobe preserve energy for the offensive side of the ball.
As mentioned above, Gasol is a far better back-to-the-basket player than Smith, who isn’t the type of guy you can feed the ball to and count on to score a basket. But the Lakers are in a unique position where they don’t need that; they already have one of those in Andrew Bynum.
Bynum had by far the best season of his promising career in 2011-2012, averaging a double-double while playing sixty games. Opponents are forced to double-team him in the post, which would leave room for Smith to attack the offensive glass with reckless, undefended abandon. One of the most athletic crashers of the offensive glass in the league, this would make Smith an ideal partner-in-crime for Bynum in the post.
All in all, the most important factor in this trade is psychosomatic. That is, this trade will benefit both teams because of both players’ new mindsets.
Josh Smith has been disgruntled in Atlanta for nearly his entire career. He feels slighted that the Hawks refused to extend him and would infuse Los Angeles with the residual energy and excitement after leaving an unresolvable situation.
Gasol, on the other hand, would be playing with a massive chip on his shoulder, wanting to spite the Lakers for letting him go in spite of the two titles he helped procure. Say what you will about Kobe becoming a better guy; this would be the second championship-winning center who would feel spurned as he left Los Angeles.
Both teams would get a much-needed breath of fresh air if this trade was consummated, and there’s no good reason for either team not to do it.
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