Why Los Angeles Lakers Must Go All out to Deal Pau Gasol

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Given the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles and head coach Mike D'Antoni's inability to put Pau Gasol in a place to succeed, the best course of action for both sides would appear to be a trade.

The Lakers are off to a dreadful 15-16 start—a record that's indicative of the team's age, odd mix of personnel and lack of continuity.

Originally, the belief regarding the Lakers was that they would kill opponents on the interior using a combination of Dwight Howard-Steve Nash pick-and-rolls and mid-range jumpers from Pau Gasol, maximizing his supposed versatility by pulling opposing power forwards away from the paint.

Unfortunately, Howard has looked sluggish on more occasions than not, and Nash, at 38 years old, has not looked particularly spry himself.

Gasol hasn't been entirely healthy either, and his numbers are representative of a player who's having a hard time adjusting to a scheme that doesn't fit his skills.

With Dwight Howard the supposed anchor in the middle, Gasol has been forced to make a living by taking shots from mid-range, where he's had very little success.

According to NBA.com, Gasol has attempted 111 shots from mid-range (the most of any basic zone on the floor), and is converting on a dreadful 38 percent of those looks.

Gasol's overall field-goal percentage of 41.7 percent isn't kind on the eyes either; the Spaniard has been forced out of his comfort zone on too many occasions this season.

A viable second offensive option for the Lakers over the past few years, Gasol has been relegated to the team's third option thanks to Dwight Howard.

According to 82games.com, Gasol's impact continues to be greater on defense than on offense, where the Lakers are actually scoring one point more per 100 possessions when he is sitting on the bench.

However, it will be hard to get equal value in return for Gasol, and as Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy mentions, his hefty contract could be an obstacle to a potential deal:

At this point, trading Gasol is easier said than done. Because he has struggled this season and been sidelined with knee tendinitis, there’s no guarantee that the Lakers will be able to find a team that’s willing to give up significant pieces for the 32-year-old Gasol, especially considering he’s making $19,000,000 this season and $19,285,850 next season.

Despite the conceptions that Gasol and Howard would team up to create the league's most physically imposing frontcourt, NBA teams are moving away from bigger, stronger lineups in favor of smaller and more versatile personnel groupings.

With that being said, an ideal trade for the Lakers would be one that nets them a true stretch 4 in exchange for Gasol.

The problem? There's a low supply and a high demand for players who fit that description, and Gasol's conventional post game isn't as appealing to teams as it once was.

Although it wouldn't necessarily be a popular deal, trading Gasol and Darius Morris (who has one year remaining on his deal) to Toronto in exchange for Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon makes sense.

Bargnani has fallen out of favor with the fans in Toronto and could be the dynamic stretch 4 that the Lakers have been searching for.

For his career, Bargnani is shooting 36.2 percent from three and averaging 15.5 points per game.

He's not a sexy name, but Bargnani could be the right guy for the Lakers, allowing them to open up the floor to play a more conventional inside-outside game.

Calderon (in the last year of his contract) would also be a welcome addition, given the Lakers' need for a veteran backup to Nash. 

The Spanish point guard averages eight shots per game for his career, converting on 47.9 percent of them. He also led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio in 2011-12.

D'Antoni has attempted to make Gasol into a more conventional stretch 4, pushing him to attempt more shots from beyond 15 feet. However, the fact remains that Gasol isn't a good outside shooter.

For his career, Gasol is converting on just 25.2 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, and according to 82games, his effective field-goal percentage on jump shots this season has plummeted to 36.3 percent.

An offense with Steve Nash at the helm requires a big who can dominate in the pick-and-roll (see: Howard, Dwight) and several perimeter shooters who can open up the floor.

The Lakers have a couple of shooters in Kobe Bryant and Jodie Meeks, but it's difficult to rely on steady production from other wings like Metta World Peace.

Grabbing a shooter or two in exchange for Gasol would put more pressure on Jordan Hill to produce, but it would open up the floor for virtually every player.

Another concern regarding Gasol (and the Lakers in general) is that they aren't playing with much gusto.

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Bryant is none too happy with the team's current energy level, something that could, in theory, be changed by a trade:

You just saw an old damn team, Bryant continued. I don't know how else to put it to you. We're just slow. You saw a team over there that was just younger and just had fresher legs and just played with more energy, and we were just stuck in the mud. I think individually we all have to figure out how to get ourselves ready each and every game to have a high level of energy. That's all that is.

Bryant is right. The Lakers don't seem to have what it takes to contend for a title physically or mentally, and perhaps the most dramatic way to change that would be to shake up the roster.

Sure, pulling the plug on L.A.'s grand experiment this soon would be premature, but given the team's inability to muster the energy necessary to win regular season games, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which they could compete with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers in the postseason. 

Note: All stats accurate as of Thursday, January 3.


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