It began with Steve Blake. It ended with Danny Granger. Between those two unexpected trades, players were moved for money reasons, for draft reasons, for cap reasons. With the exception of Indiana, most teams remained as they were minus a player here or there. Yes, Steve Blake will help the Warriors but not enough to make them a threat to overtake the Thunder or even the Spurs. The Clippers moving of Antawn Jamison still left them with a hole at the back up power forward position. Gary Neal going to Charlotte was no more impactful than Ramon Sessions returning to Milwaukee. Same with Aaron Brooks in Denver and Jordan Hamilton in Houston. Or Sacramento adding Jason Terry. Jan Vesely is the Nuggets price to get rid of an unhappy Andre Miller. And Spencer Hawes going to Cleveland is, oh, never mind. Gone are the days when the trade deadline mattered. Back then the contracts were longer and stupid general managers tried to make up for their mistakes. Panic was always in the air. But the consequence of this new collective bargaining agreement is a line in the sand: tax, luxury tax, repeater tax. The Lakers went from an 11 million dollar tax bill to an 8 million dollar tax bill and in the grand scheme of things it barely made a ripple. Miami shed money by getting rid of Roger Mason, Jr. but their real challenge is getting Dwayne Wade to opt out and restructure his deal. Philadelphia added a bunch of second round picks that will play longer in Europe than in the NBA. And the Pacers won the day. They added a skilled offensive player who is shaky on defense but who is insurance if they lose Lance Stephenson on the free agent market. Evan Turner is a valued addition for an offensively challenged Pacers team that needs to keep up with the offensive skill of the Heat and the Thunder. They were the clear cut winners. As for everyone else? Collectively they get a C.
And yet the Lakers cleared some things up.
1. They still covet Pau Gasol. As an organization with a very specific identity, historically, the Lakers have exhibited loyalty to their Hall of Fame players, reluctant to trade them as they languished in the latter part of their career. They did not trade Wilt Chamberlain (Hall of Famer), Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (Hall of Famer), James Worthy (Hall of Famer), Kobe Bryant (Hall of Famer). All played 12 years or more, all dropped precipitously as they aged. The Lakers were honest when they said they wanted assets for Pau. But the problem was the rest of the league sees Pau as an often injured woeful defender who probably would not sign with them in July. Worst case scenario: The Lakers and Pau are unable to come to terms in July and he signs elsewhere. Best case scenario: Pau lowers his asking price because he wants to retire a Laker.
2. The Lakers care about their players, sort of. The Lakers moved their second toughest player to a playoff contending team. They did Steve Blake a favor as far as basketball goes. At Golden State he can reintroduce himself to what it feels like to win games surrounded by talented players, guided by a tough minded coach. But being so far away from his wife and three sons is the collateral damage of being traded, this terrible impact on children and families. As for the rest of the team the front office did not seem to care that ripping Steve Blake out of warmup drills to inform him he was traded would impact a young, fragile minded core already reeling because of a disastrous season.
3. Jordan Hill is an asset the Lakers will not be able to keep in July. Though not as athletic as some forwards, Jordan is a rebounder, has a few post moves, is tough in the paint and has earned a reputation as a player who can help a team do the small things that win games. He will get overpaid in July and the Lakers will more than likely bow out of the bidding.
4. They have a plan. If Mitch Kupchak is to be believed the Lakers are not going to overspend on free agents they do not want. It might just be they add pieces around Kobe and Gasol and see where that takes them. Their present is their future. Or their hopes. Kevin Love in 2015. Kevin Durant in 2016. In other words they are rebuilding.
5. Mitch Kupchak apparently has amnesia. He compared the 2013-14 season to the season after Shaq was traded in 2004-05. Uh, no. That team had Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic and Kobe Bryant. They were 5th in rebounding. 10th in offensive rebounding. 14th in free throw attempts. 12th in points. After 54 games their record was 28-24. They never lost more than three games in a row. They had not lost by 30 points. They did not lose eight consecutive games at home. They had a home record of 19-11. They had a 27 point a game scorer. Two fifteen point scorers. One thirteen point scorer.
6. Teams are hoarding first round draft picks. You cannot trade first round picks in consecutive years and with the burden of the tax the new buzz words are: developing through the draft. But that only works if there is personnel in place who knows what they are doing. Some of these clueless general managers draft the wrong player, are stuck with them and unintentionally screw up their flexibility. The Lakers figure to go anywhere for 1-4 in the lottery which is not really significant if they don’t pick the right player for their “plan.”
7. Kobe loves tough players. He is so close to Steve Blake that last season Blake “borrowed” Kobe’s helicopter to see a doctor for an MRI appointment. And then this year when Blake suffered the torn ligaments in his elbow, Kobe was visibly saddened for him. Now with Blake gone the toughness has disappeared. The players are young and soft and don’t compete and who knows what their frame of mind will be for the next 28 games.
8. June 26th, the date of the NBA draft. It is 18 weeks away. Mark your calendar.