Man, was I glad to be wrong about this one.
You see, for the last few years I’ve been endlessly bitching about the Lakers’ penny pinching, a story that really hasn’t gotten as much play as it should have. Rewind to 2011, when the team shot out of the gate in defense of their last two titles, only to falter down the stretch and get swept out the door by the eventual champion Mavs. As great as that team was, it had gotten just enough out of Derek Fisher to get by, and it was obvious to anyone paying attention that the Lakers needed help at point guard. Only one problem-they were already well into the luxury tax, so the only option was to make a trade and try to get someone just quick enough to stay in front of opposing guards and maybe, just maybe, inject some youth into one of the older teams around. What’s more, they had almost no depth behind Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom up front,which was a big enough problem for Phil Jackson that he openly complained about it it all season and basically ended up playing Pau too much in what amounted to a protest of sorts.
As it turned out, they traded Sasha Vujacic and his 5 million dollar contract to the Nets for Joe Smith. which is another way of saying “we need to save 4 million in luxury tax more than we need a point guard”. They did get a trade exception for the balance of Sasha’s contract, which meant any time in the next year they could trade it for a player making that much or less without having to give anything back. Of course, they never used it and the mighty point guard tandem of Fisher and Steve Blake went on to be run ragged by J.J. Barea and the rest of the quicker Maverick guards en route to an ugly sweep.
Long story short, the Laker ownership considered saving four million dollars to be a priority above winning a third straight title. For a franchise that basically has a license to print money, this can hardly be explained away.
Last year was more of the same. Plan B after the Chris Paul trade fell apart was to send Lamar out without taking anything back in return. Even at last years’ trade deadline, the savvy moves that Mitch Kupchak made to get Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill were in fact done so as part of an edict from ownership to both improve the team AND save as much money as possible, and it cost the Lakers the two first round picks they would have had in last weeks’ draft to save them around 10 million in payroll. All praises due to Kupchak for doing his darndest and all that, but there’s only so much a man can do when working with that kind of handicap.
Hey, it’s not as if I didn’t have my reasons for telling everyone I know that the Lakers wouldn’t trade for Michael Beasley last year or Mo Williams this year or anyone else, because I knew they were terrified to get any deeper into the luxury tax than they already were. Tt’s not like this was some crazy fucking hunch or whatever: the evidence was right out there in the open for all to see.
With all that said, the truth of it is they went out and made me eat all of them words yesterday when they took a deep breath and added another 8 million (which is practical language is 16 million, since the luxury tax is a dollar-for-dollar penalty) to acquire Steve Nash and take one last serious swing at putting more rings on Kobe’s fingers before he calls it a career.
For that, we should all rejoice.
Honestly, this whole thing was nearing the breaking point until yesterday. The way they were shying away from paying the cost to make this team viable was incredibly frustrating when you consider just how very close they are. Add the fact that the main priorities in any Pau trade were rumored to be saving money and adding a young star to pair with Andrew Bynum in the years to come, and it was starting to look alot like they were all but closing the books on this era and moving on.
That was yesterday. Today, Steve Nash is wearing purple and gold and everyone in LA is over the moon about it. That goes for me too, in case you were wondering.
As for what happens next, I’ve got my hunches. For one thing, the payroll is already above 85 million dollars, and it’s going to end up well over 90 at the very least by the time they finish filling out the roster. For that reason and others, I’m almost positive Pau is gone. After all, if they can find a deal that gets them a younger, more athletic player (I’m pulling for Josh Smith or Derrick Williams) and allows them to shed the salary they added in the Nash deal, they should pounce on that. It simply makes too much sense on every front. Listen, Pau Gasol’s contributions to this team should be appreciated by all, but his time has come and really, this is no time for sentimentality. Why pay 19 million a year for a player who is clearly on the wane and has been an utter no-show in the last two postseasons? If you’ve got an answer to that one, I’m all ears.
Oh, and let me just say this about the Dwight stuff. Either he wants to come to LA and be one of the vital cogs on a team that could dominate for the next three years, then take the leadership role when Kobe and Nash depart, or he can go be King Shit of turd island on a team that likely won’t get past either Miami or Chicago. Seriously, that’s all there is to this story, and who on earth isn’t tried of talking about it?
Anyway, all of this will be worked out in the next few weeks or so but no matter how the chips fall, let it be known that the Buss family finally consented to open the wallet for a real chance at adding more titles to their tophy case and Kobe’s legacy.
No matter what happens from here, at least they gave us that much.
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