If the Houston Rockets were in a mood to do the Lakers any favors (which they're not) . . .
If the Lakers weren't locked into a pinching salary-cap position and could put together an attractive enough trade proposal to coax Houston into meeting Scottie Pippen's desire to be traded to L.A. (so far they haven't been able to) . . .
If Pippen could fill the Lakers' first and most aching need, power forward (he wouldn't) . . .
If all these iffy, sticky issues could be solved--all at once, all soothing various egos, financial concerns and natural competitive tensions--then, yes, Pippen's reported request to be traded to the Lakers would be something to be taken seriously.
"We've talked in the past," Laker owner Jerry Buss said Thursday when asked about trading for Pippen. "The salary cap changes a lot of things.
"He is 34 years old [or will be in September] and that makes a difference. The salary cap is tough, but there are things we could do. But then if we did that, we'd be one player short.
"It doesn't seem like something that can easily happen."
If Pippen were still in his prime (he doesn't appear to be, based on his up-and-down 1999 season) and if he were scheduled to earn a palatable salary over the next four seasons (at $14 million-plus, he probably isn't) . . .
If Rocket Coach Rudy Tomjanovich were the panicky sort and willing to accept another potential headache in Glen Rice just to please Pippen (you can bet he is not) . . .
If the salary-cap rules worked in favor of such blockbuster deals (they don't; in fact, they practically prevent them) . . .
But the NBA these days is about hard realities and salary-cap mathematics.
The Lakers, as currently configured, will have something close to a $53-million payroll, about $20 million above the salary-cap limit, so their ability to move and acquire talent is hampered instantly.
Remember, they are still in the hunt for Charles Oakley, a free agent.
But so far, the Lakers have been unable to pry him loose from the Toronto Raptors with a sign-and-trade offer, which is the only way they can pay him a market-rate salary.
And if putting together a workable trade for a 35-year-old free agent is this difficult, how are they going to do it with a conference rival for a future Hall of Fame player making the maximum?
This does not mean Pippen's name won't keep popping up on the Laker radar screen, of course.
Maybe down the line, all of the complications can be addressed. But for the immediate future, the roadblocks remain formidable.
"There have been discussions with the two clubs," Pippen's agent, Jimmy Sexton, told the Houston Chronicle. "They told us that the Rockets have some distance between the offer and what the Rockets would be willing to do."
As he has said privately for months and, perhaps now directly to the Rockets, Pippen wants to be reunited with new Laker Coach Phil Jackson and dislikes the Rockets' grind-it-down-low offense.
"He and Phil Jackson have an extremely close relationship from 11 years [of] working together day in and day out," Sexton said.
"It's not anything against the Rockets or any coaches with the Rockets' staff. It's just about the very close and unusual relationship with Phil Jackson."
Jackson has never hidden his desire to have Pippen initiate his triangle offense and bring a Chicago Bull attitude to town, and the Lakers did offer Rice and Robert Horry for Pippen on June 30.
That offer was rejected by Houston, sources said, in part because Tomjanovich and the Rocket brass were uncomfortable with Rice's impending free agency, and his oft-stated desire to be paid $14 million a season.
Wouldn't Pippen's trade request make Houston more likely to talk deal and the Lakers increasingly eager to meet any demand of a possible Pippen acquisition?
As the teams stand, the answer to that is probably no.
For the Rockets to consider trading Pippen now, a team source said, they would seek young, athletic players--or high draft picks--to start a long-term rebuilding process.
The last Laker trade offer is now obsolete--thanks to salary-cap rules. On July 1, Pippen became a base-year player, which means the Lakers would have to add a third player to meet his $14.79-million salary-cap figure.
"We're not anticipating any type of a major move, other than what's publicly been discussed, which is a free-agent possibility at the power forward position," General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday. "That's the one area right now where we feel we need some help.
"And if that did not come about, we feel more than sufficient with the players we do have."
The Lakers could try Travis Knight or Robert Horry at power forward, or they could re-sign last season's incumbent, J.R. Reid, or move to acquire another power forward via trade or free-agency.
Pippen, of course, is a small forward, a position currently occupied by Rice--acquired in a controversial trade with the Charlotte Hornets, and for whom Kupchak and Executive Vice President Jerry West recently took the extraordinary step of flying to his Miami home for a clear-the-air session.
"When you paint a picture, you want the best of everything in your mind, knowing that somewhere down the road you might have to accept a little bit less than the very, very best," Kupchak said.
"But we like our team."
Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre contributed to this story.