The details are still emerging, but Chris Paul will be a Los Angeles Laker next season, according to numerous sources.
While more players are likely to be involved, the foundation of the deal sends Chris Paul to Los Angeles, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin to New Orleans. An exciting start to what promises to be another incredibly fascinating season.
But unlike most other trades of this magnitude, I don’t think the headliner’s team was the biggest winner. My initial reaction was that the Lakers had pulled off a coup, but depending on whether details remain consistent through the trade's completion, I'm not so sure.
Here’s my breakdown:
Why I really like it for New Orleans
Paul is an incredible player, but they’ve been resigned with his departure for months. To get back three near All-Star players in Odom/Scola/Martin is nothing to sneeze at. They can play Okafor at center, slide Scola over to his more natural power forward position, let Odom facilitate and create mismatches as a small forward and still allow Martin to be the high usage scorer that he’s been in Sacramento and Houston.
Odom and Scola are getting up there in age, ostensibly past their primes, but Martin is a young player with some upside. They also seem to hold on to Emeka Okafor, who had been mentioned as a casualty in any Chris Paul trade. While he’s not a great contract, he’s an efficient scorer and a good defensive center, something that comes at a premium in today’s NBA.
Who was the big winner in this deal?
This seems eerily reminiscent of the Carmelo Anthony trade last season, except that Dell Demps played it expertly. There were no midseason distractions, and the new-look Hornets have a “full” 66-game schedule to work out chemistry issues. I think they’ll be competitive this season in the west.
Why I sort of like it for Houston
Houston gets Pau Gasol, whose stock couldn’t be lower, and sends out about $23 million in contracts going forward (if Goran Dragic is indeed jettisoned, as Ethan Norof posts).
They’ve held on to a lot of the young building blocks in Kyle Lowery, Johnny Flynn, Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill. And while they’ve sent out their two best players to get him, Pau is still one of the league’s top 20 players—something everyone could have agreed on if the Lakers hadn’t struggled so drastically during the playoffs. He was within a fraction of a point of Paul in John Hollinger's all-inclusive PER measure.
They’ve definitely upgraded their front court in this trade, and while they didn’t get younger at the position, they didn’t get older, either. There was some worry that Scola was going to have persistent knee issues, and Gasol has been generally healthy over his career, so this might even be considered a durability upgrade.
Are the Lakers the new favorites in the Western Conference?
Houston will now be easily able to offer Marc Gasol whatever salary they find palatable, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Daryl Morey continue dealing in this abbreviated offseason. I think it’s more likely they’ll end up with someone of Sam Dalembert’s caliber, but still, they will get an upgrade at center.
Expect Houston to be just as competitive this year as they were last year, competing for a playoff spot late into the season.
Why I don’t like it for the Lakers
The Lakers got, in my opinion, the best point guard in basketball. His best attributes are his ball control (especially his frugal turnover rate) and ability to distribute, though he’s a very efficient shooter and stand-up locker room personality as well. Other than Derrick Rose, I don’t think you can argue for anyone else having better abilities at the point guard spot.
But Paul, while only 26 years old, has had a checkered injury history, including last season. Sure—he turned it up in the playoffs, looking like he could almost single-handedly beat the Lakers at times. But I’m a bit worried it’s more about that, and an obsession with improving at a single position, than about upgrading the team as a whole.
In acquiring Paul, the Lakers turn two All-Stars into one. While someone will have to man the forward positions for the team, Paul’s 15.8/4.1/9.8 doesn’t come close to replacing Odom and Gasol’s production of 33.2/18.9/6.6 per game. They’ve lost almost 18 points and 15 rebounds a game, even as they've addressed their weakest position.
The thinking is obviously that they’ll be able to spin Bynum for Howard later on this season and trot out a lineup featuring Paul, Kobe and Howard some time this season. I don’t see it happening. Howard is the more desirable player based on his injury immunity and the NBA being relatively devoid of great centers. In my opinion, they probably needed to include Odom in that deal for any realistic shot at being the Magic’s best offer.
Even with Howard, the Lakers couldn’t tote out the three “seven-footer lineup” they showcased on a nightly basis last season. Even though it’s a slight exaggeration, when 6’10” Lamar Odom is the shortest man in your front court, you’ve got a height advantage against every team in the league.
Howard would certainly address some weaknesses, but there is a good chance that the Magic will find a team willing to chance Howard leaving after his contract expires this summer. And while I expect a team with Paul and Bryant to win almost every close game, I'm not sure they haven't sacrificed what made them truly unique to do so.