The Los Angeles Lakers can ill afford to be patient while the rest of the Western Conference continues to pull away in the standings and add roster depth.
Much of the talk about the current state of the Lake Show has been centered around the team's disappointing chemistry. More specifically, Pau Gasol has become the scapegoat for the team's struggles and has been criticized for not fitting well in new coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive system.
Despite the fact that Pau is a skilled interior passer, can get to the basket with two dribbles from nearly anywhere in a half-court set and has above-average shooting ability for someone his size, most people who follow the Lakers have deemed him the most obvious cause of this season's failures.
For that reason, Gasol seems the most obvious trade piece that GM Mitch Kupchak has at his disposal. Pau is a tremendously talented big man, whose offensive skills rank amongst the top of the league at his position.
The three most suitable teams with which to discuss trading the seven-foot Spaniard are the Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves. Laker fans are clamoring for a deal that would land hybrid big man Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks, but that seems a bit less feasible considering Atlanta rejected an offer in the offseason.
For argument's sake, lets keep the Smith idea on the table. The following are the four best options that the Lakers have in packaging a deal involving Gasol. If Laker fans are right in their complaints, moving Pau in such a deal would push the Lakers back into serious title contention.
It is important to note that before you continue reading that these deals are ideal for the Lakers. Hence, they may seem a bit disproportionate in favor of Los Angeles. I believe they are still somewhat within reason and could be tweaked to the suitor's fancy.
Toronto Raptors Get: PF Pau Gasol
L.A. Lakers Get: C Andrea Bargnani, G Jose Calderon
Andrea Bargnani is likely too young for the Raptors to part with for the 32-year-old Gasol. At just 24, Bargnani is an improving big man who can shoot reasonably well from the perimeter and converts a high percentage of his free throws. From the Lakers perspective, he also would be a more flexible fit in D'Antoni's offense.
Additionally, adding Calderon would greatly improve the Lakers' guard depth and their perimeter pressure on the defensive side of the ball. If Kupchak could convince Toronto to consider this deal, the Lake Show would be running and gunning.
New Orleans Hornets Get: Gasol, PF/SF Antawn Jamison
L.A. Lakers Get: PF Ryan Anderson, G Eric Gordon
I particularly like this deal because of Gordon. He has proven his worth as a shooting guard off the bench, and he would be a great offensive threat to back up both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
He'd be a great improvement over both Darius Morris and Jodie Meeks.
Similar to Andrea Bargnani, Ryan Anderson is a big man who can spread the floor and convert from deep. He's having a great season—averaging nearly 18 points and eight rebounds per game—and runs the floor better than Pau.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of acquiring Ryan Anderson would be the fact that he played alongside Dwight Howard in Orlando. The two developed solid chemistry while playing for the Magic, so reuniting the two might serve the Lakers mentality well.
Minnesota Timberwolves Get: Gasol, G Steve Blake
L.A. Lakers Get: PF Kevin Love, G J.J. Barea
The likelihood of Minnesota parting with the franchise's best player since Kevin Garnett is slim. Still, with every day that passes, Love continues to express his discontent with the organization and not-so-subtly hint that he will eventually take his talents elsewhere.
While he may not join forces with the Purple and Gold until his contract with the Timberwolves expires in 2014, the idea of gaining a return for him now must at least intrigue Minnesota's management. And, a second fracture of his right hand can't hurt the Lakers chances of acquiring him at this juncture. It may not mean an immediate improvement as he won't see the floor for some time, but the eventual addition of a player of Love's caliber would boost the Lakers tremendously.
Not to mention, his skills perfectly fit D'Antoni's system. See what I'm getting at here?
J.J. Barea is a feisty guard who knows what it takes to win it all. He absolutely torched the Lakers during Dallas' championship run two years ago, and Mitch Kupchak has to be aware of his energy and leadership.
Atlanta Hawks Get: PF Pau Gasol
L.A. Lakers Get: PF Josh Smith, G Devin Harris
If you've tuned in at all to the avalanche of Laker fans' requests for a trade involving Gasol, you've noticed that the player most in demand is Atlanta's Josh Smith. Simply put, the man can do it all.
Smith is a hybrid big man who is a ferocious rebounder, runs the floor much better than Gasol and can also knock down the mid-range jumper. He has decent ball-handling skills and is more athletic than Gasol on both ends of the floor.
For a team that has yet to find its identity, adding a pure athlete like Josh Smith could be just the key to spur a midseason rally. Plus, Devin Harris would have a similar effect on the three guards mentioned above, adding just enough energy to get L.A. over the hump.
The trick is in getting Atlanta to accept.