It's unclear why it took until after Los Angeles' listless loss to Phoenix on Sunday for this to come to a head, but Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant seems pretty sick and tired of the trade rumors regarding forward/center Pau Gasol. Gasol has had an up-and-down (but ultimately All-Star worthy) season in the wake of nearly being traded to Houston in December. While speaking with reporters after the game, Kobe offered this, from ESPN Los Angeles:
"I talked to (Gasol) a little bit about it," Bryant said. "It's just tough for a player to give his all when you don't know if you're going to be here tomorrow. I'd rather them not trade him at all. If they're going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it. If they're not going to do it, come out and say you're not going to do it. This way he can be comfortable, he can go out, he can play and he can invest all of himself into the game."
What I'm having a hard time understanding is when, exactly, were trade rumors swirling around Gasol?
Sure, there was this report that somehow pins Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose as signing off on wanting his team to deal Carlos Boozer to Los Angeles for Gasol, but it's a translated missive that feels a little dodgy. Rose barely says anything negative about any of his teammates, he's certainly never even come close to speaking out of turn like this as a de facto GM, and there's no way the Lakers are going to deal for the declining legs and three years left on Boozer's contract.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak even recently all but assured Gasol he won't be going anywhere unless the Lakers are bowled over by an offer (read: Dwight Howard becomes available). Here's his take, in talking with SI.com's Sam Amick:
"Of course we'll talk to a lot of teams [about trades], like everybody else does, leading up until the trade deadline to see if there is a way to improve the team," Kupchak said. "But the likelihood is that this is the team that's going to finish into the playoffs. That's just the way it normally works, but we'll see."
Only a terrible GM would tell the press that his players are off the table, because there's always a chance at the last minute that another team (read: Orlando) gets panicky and decides to make a deal right before the March 15 trade deadline. And only a GM who wants to lose credibility around the league would tell the press that his players are off the table, before going back on his word and shipping off his players to a panicky team for a better player.
Kupchak is doing what he has to do: telling the truth (there isn't much demand for Gasol, as great as he is, due to his age and contract); leaving his options open (we like our team, mainly because we've exhausted all our options to try to improve it, but I won't say I'm completely closing the door on deals); and talking up his team (as he did throughout Amick's piece).
And while Kobe's right to be frustrated, you'll notice he didn't exactly demand Kupchak not trade Gasol. He just said he'd "rather" the Lakers not deal Pau to get it over with, or call it off altogether. Without meaning to, he's doing the exact same thing that his GM is doing, while criticizing the GM at the same time. Bryant, as you'll recall, is just a few years removed from wanting to trade the starting center on the Western Conference All-Stars for Jason Kidd. Players don't make good GMs, but they sure do sound a lot like GMs sometimes.
Gasol, who was "caught" by coach Mike Brown looking at trade rumors on his computer on Sunday morning on the team plane, is clearly a little beaten down mentally by the back and forth. From ESPN Los Angeles:
"So, we got March 15th, the (trade) deadline," Gasol said as he made his way to the team bus after the game when reporters caught up to him to pass on Bryant's remarks. "That's what I'm thinking (about). Hopefully we get to that day (without a trade). Obviously if something was told to me before, it would be good, but I'm not trying to force things. I'm not trying to force a team, 'If they want to trade me, trade me tomorrow.' Because obviously I still believe in our team, I believe in our city and I believe that we can continue to be a special, special team and a successful team."
The real issue here isn't Gasol. It's not as simple as bringing one person in, or taking one away. The Lakers lack depth, they're getting no production on either side of the ball from their point guards and they've lost a series of close games because teams load up on Kobe late in fourth quarters knowing there's no way in hell he's giving up the ball. As a result, Bryant has had a terrible field-goal percentage down the stretch of close games despite a fantastic year overall, and a lineup fielding three should-be All-Stars and the NBA's leading scorer is only 16th in offensive efficiency.
Down from sixth in 2010-11. And you know Lamar Odom isn't the reason for a drop-off that steep.
The unfortunate truth is the Lakers, even as top-heavy as they are, have the pieces to mount a significant playoff run. They have to play smarter. No trade or extinguishing of rumors will make up for the spotty decision-making.
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