Mitch Kupchak learned a lot from his mentor Jerry West. With the trade of Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Lakers, you can say that Kupchak also learned the art of fleecing other teams from Jerry West.
For us who weren’t around when West dominated the NBA in the 60’s, the only memory we have of him was his cunning guile and craftiness as the general manager of the Lakers during the late 90’s. After all, he was the one who signed Shaquille O’Neal away from Orlando and duped the then-Charlotte Hornets to trade their 1996 first round draft pick – a tall, skinny high school kid from Philadelphia – for Vlade Divac.
Jerry West made the Lakers a championship contender with those moves. And now – after a history of questionable moves – the apprentice finally made the trade that would make his teacher proud.
For those who haven’t heard, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and two future first round draft picks.
The Lakers – especially Kupchak – clearly struck gold with this deal. They get a legitimate All-Star to join an already deep roster made up of Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Andre Bynum, and Derek Fisher.
Kupchack knew that Gasol would fit in nicely with the Lakers because he’s well-suited to play in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Equally important – and something that plays to the Lakers advantage – is the fact that Gasol is one of the most unassuming stars of the league. Here’s a guy who’s not really too comfortable being the “main guy” on a team -like what he was in Memphis. In LA, he doesn’t need to play that part anymore because it already falls on the lap of Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers also won’t have to worry about any chemistry issues with Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom because Bynum prefers to bang inside while Odom – being allergic to any semblance of physical contact – prefers to play in the perimeter. That’s all fine and good for Gasol because he prefers to play in the high block – the ideal place for a good passing big man playing the triangle offense.
As for the Memphis Grizzlies, you can’t help but scratch your head on what Chris Wallace is thinking. The best thing they can get for Pau Gasol is an underachieving big, an untested rookie, and two future first round picks? Really, that’s it?
It’s not a reassuring deal, especially if you’re a Grizzlies fan. It’s especially depressing when Gasol’s stock was still high enough that you still could’ve gotten a far better deal if they had made a trade with another team, say the Chicago Bulls – a team that could have offered better players to swap for Gasol.
The obvious conclusion here is that the Grizzlies have basically torpedoed their season and are looking towards the future. How else do you explain the acquisition of Brown to team-up with fellow underachiever Darko Milicic? If they think that they can compete in the West with these two overrated hobos anchoring the middle, then they’re far more incompetent than I initially thought.
The Grizzlies are rebuilding, folks. And what’s the first way to do that? Rid yourself of your highest paid player and get some expiring contracts and draft picks in return. Of course, tanking the season and getting a high draft pick is also a way to do it. The Grizziles – whether they admit it or not – accomplished all three with this trade.
Now the Grizzlies can set their paws on the future. They have two young studs in Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay to build the franchise around, and they rid themselves of a player who clearly didn’t want to wait for these cubs to mature.
And with a plethora of high-caliber free agents available in the summer of 2008, Memphis at least has the cash to make a run at any of the superstars. But the question is; who would want to go to a rebuilding team, situated in the middle of nowhere?
The Lakers and Grizzlies will make you think that they both won in this trade. But if you know your basketball, you know that the only form of winning that really matters is hoisting that championship trophy in June.
With this trade, the Lakers have made themselves a legitimate championship threat again, while the Grizzlies have returned to reprising their role as cellar dwellers.
And after years of questionable wheeling and dealing, Mitch Kupchak has finally made a deal that makes the Lakers formidable again. How he was able to convince the Grizzlies to make this trade remains a mystery.
But let’s not forget that he did learn from the very best. And sometimes, that’s all we need to know.