It's out with the old, in with the almost as old for the Lakers, who sent… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Despite all the limited assets he conceded the Lakers had, General Manager Mitch Kupchak still let out hope last week that the Lakers could hit a "home run."
The organization is accustomed to success after winning 16 NBA titles. The Lakers refused to concede that their championship window had closed with their core roster. And even if the Lakers admitted there's more emphasis to keep costs down to avoid the more punitive tax penalties stemming from the new labor deal, they still insisted that wouldn't be distracted from their goal of upgrading the roster.
All those elements came together Wednesday when the Lakers acquired elite point guard Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns through a sign-and-trade. Here are five reasons why the Lakers set off their own fireworks on the Fourth of July.
1. The Lakers hit a home run. The front office deserves a lot of credit for somehow pulling it off. There was plenty of skepticism, including from yours truly, on whether the Lakers could upgrade their team with limited assets. Some of their moves (trading Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher) also were scrutinized, including from yours truly. Though it's indisputable there were short-term consequences to such moves, the front office of Kupchak, Jim Buss and Jerry Buss made that into a net positive.
They acquired Nash in a three-year deal worth $27 million, a tall order considering the Lakers are strapped financially. The Lakers used the $8.9-million trade exception stemming from the Odom deal to cover Nash's first year. The Lakers also sent first and second-round picks next season and in 2015. Yes, the Lakers' front office still faces challenges in minimizing those costs, but winning remains the most important variable this organization values. By making this deal, the Lakers sent a loud message that their mind-set hasn't changed despite facing a new economic landscape.
2. Nash will instantly bolster the Lakers' point-guard production. He may be 38 years old, but Nash has aged like a fine wine by maximizing his skill set. Nash shot 53.2% from the field and 39% from three-point range last season to help an underachieving Suns team stay in playoff contention. He has kept a pretty solid efficiency rating in the past five seasons. And his strong sense in playing pick-and-roll, pushing the pace and finding the open man should suddenly make a stagnant Lakers offense blossom.
The Lakers may go through a transitional period. It's inevitable considering the drastic change. But it's not going to be as severe as when they acquired Ramon Sessions, whom the Lakers won't re-sign after he opted out of his $4.55-million player option. Nash has a far bigger comfort level in being able to look for his shot while still being the team's primary playmaker. And he's playoff-tested and has earned plenty of respect from the likes of Kobe Bryant to assume primary ball-handling duties.
3. Bryant will have an easier job next season. Even if the Black Mamba showed he could still turn back the clock at times, the heavy workload elicited plenty of concern that it would catch up to him. It did to some degree after shooting just 43% from the field, the lowest percentage since the second season of his career. Part of that may have reflected his playing time (38.5 minutes per game). It remains unclear if Coach Mike Brown will feel comfortable lowering that considering the Lakers don't yet have a significant option to back up Bryant at shooting guard. But Nash's presence should help ease that burden in many ways.
Bryant won't have to handle the ball as much, which will result in some added energy. It's more likely Bryant will find better looks at the basket by moving off the ball toward spots in the post and elbows instead of finding offense through isolation. The Lakers' ball movement should improve considerably, making it harder for opponents to double-team Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (assuming the latter two are still with the team next season).
4. Don't fret about Nash's defensive deficiencies. His arrival won't make it any easier for the Lakers to guard Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook or San Antonio's Tony Parker. He only ranks 149th overall on defense. Westbrook averaged 21.3 points on 49% shooting against the Suns last season, while Parker averaged 18.3 points on 48.9% shooting. First of all, those kind of numbers to such players are manageable. Secondly, every point guard in the NBA will have problems guarding those two players. Most importantly, Nash's offensive production will both mitigate his defensive deficiencies and indirectly bolster the Lakers' defensive mind-set.