LA Lakers Better off Trading Dwight Howard Than Pau Gasol

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 23, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 21: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls gets tangled up with Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the United Center on January 21, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Lakers 95-83. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Real GM has kicked off the Dwight Howard trade rumors, with a report on the Nets angling for a swap. As the Los Angeles season sputters and spirals, this noise will only grow louder.

The Los Angeles Lakers' frontcourt is in a "sell low" situation. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are ill-suited to playing with one another and they've both been playing worse than expected. Compounding the problem, is that the poorer play has depressed their trade value.

The Lakers must make a move, despite the trying circumstances. But only one of these guys has seen his trade value drop to the point of near immovability. That would be Pau Gasol, he of the more than $18 million per year deal and he of the more than 32 years of age.

If the Lakers are to get a solid return from trading one of these players, it will not be for trading Pau Gasol. That ship has sailed, at least, until he starts playing better. 

So, if Los Angeles is to best optimize in this situation, it may be wiser to bet on Pau responding to a proper role and a different environment. They can't get much value for Gasol, apart from the value they could create internally by changing his situation.

Pau Gasol is a center, and the Lakers have tried to live with him in another role. It worked, previously, back when Gasol was more limber and back when Lamar Odom served as the bridge between Pau and Andrew Bynum. 

Today, Pau Gasol just can't work as a power forward. He's too slow to face combo forwards like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. His shot range isn't deep enough to stretch defenses away from Dwight Howard.

Gasol, can, however, work back at his old five-spot, especially if the Lakers trade Dwight Howard for the proper surrounding talent. Here's one hypothetical trade from Nate Jones:

Give the Lakers KG, some wing help and a first round pick and you can have Dwight. Roll the dice!

— Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) January 23, 2013

Now, Kevin Garnett has a no-trade clause, and such a deal is unlikely. Still, it's representative of the kind of trade that could work for Los Angeles. If they aren't committed to Dwight Howard long term, or if Dwight Howard isn't committed to them, they can circle back to their old foundation.

Enjoyable as that hypothetical trade is, I prefer the one floated by Zach Lowe in his chat with Bill Simmons on Grantland. The general idea is that the Hawks could be interested in an Al Horford-for-Dwight Howard swap of some kind.

Horford could work with Pau Gasol because Big Al spreads the floor with his jumper and has the mobility to guard opposing combo forwards. It also might work for the Atlanta Hawks because their undersized frontcourt of Al Horford and Josh Smith can only go so far.

Even though his movements aren't smooth and his athleticism appears diminished, teams will be willing to take a chance on rebuilding with Dwight Howard. He's 26 years old, and great players have come back from worse. The question is whether the Lakers want to try rebuilding with Dwight when they have such a bad situation that he might skip town anyway.