Why Lakers shouldn't trade Gasol; Bobcats prospects; more mailbag
Pau Gasol has been subject of rumors, but he remains very valuable to the Lakers
He has title experience, and his skill set, temperament mesh perfectly with team
And: Have Bobcats turned a corner?; modern scoring benchmark; Jimmer's future
Let's get straight to your questions:
Dear Ian, I'm one of your loyal followers. My "brain twist": Although being in Denmark (nine-hour time difference from L.A.) and not being an educated basketball expert, my approximately 20 years of following the NBA has left me wondering how on earth the Lakers are considering trading Pau Gasol. In my mind, he's one of big men with the highest basketball IQ and, as such, the perfect fit for Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. Gasol can distribute the ball to the best scoring option or exploit own scoring options. Either way, he is the ultimate teammate.
-- Jesper, Herning, Denmark
Thank you, Jesper, and I couldn't agree more with you. If the Lakers were aiming to win a championship two or three years from now, then I could understand the talk of a trade for Gasol, who is 32. Even so, Gasol's expensive $19 million salary (with $19.3 million due next season, the final year of his contract) would prevent the Lakers from netting equal value in return, forcing them to take on at least one bad contract while receiving a younger player who would be unlikely to ever match what Gasol can (and I believe will) give them over the course of this season.
Let's put it this way: If the Lakers are to win a championship this June, it will be because Gasol has emerged as arguably the most valuable power forward in the league. If they succeed, it will be because they were able to exploit his skills in a variety of ways. It's easy to dismiss Gasol at the moment because his numbers this season (career lows of 13.4 points and 43.4 percent shooting in 36 minutes) are poor. But those numbers are going to change as the Lakers grow comfortable in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense in the months to come.
If you look back at D'Antoni's impact over the years, every player of talent except for Carmelo Anthony has flourished in his system. This season Anthony is receiving credit for the kind of team play that has always defined Gasol. To put it another way: Gasol, as D'Antoni has surely noticed, is not Anthony.
When the floor is spread and the Lakers are keeping defenses off balance, as will happen when their starting five is intact and running D'Antoni's offense at full speed, that's when you'll see Gasol emerging as a second playmaker. If they succeed in running some of the offense through Gasol, they are going to be impossible to guard.
Though his stats are certain to rise, Gasol may not put up gaudy numbers that match his large salary. And yet I view him as indispensable to the Lakers' championship hopes because he is a luxury that they can afford and that they cannot replace. He fits with their current team not only because he is so preposterously skilled but also because he is so uncommonly tolerant. How many players of his talent would express patience and be willing to pursue a role that can help the team win another championship? Imagine what would happen if the Lakers were able to trade him for a younger frontcourt star like Atlanta's Josh Smith, who has been mentioned in trade rumors for Gasol. Where would that leave the Lakers? A talented, younger player is going to come to Los Angeles with a lot to prove. He is going to want to show that he can put up big numbers and be an important piece of a championship team.
The Lakers don't need that. They already have three prolific producers in Bryant, Howard and Nash. What they need is a star like Gasol, who is secure enough to accept the kind of role that can lead to a championship. He has earned two NBA titles already, and last summer he came within minutes of leading Spain to an upset of the United States in the Olympic final. He doesn't need to prove that he's The Man; he only needs to win another ring. He is exactly the kind of player the Lakers need, in both talent and temperament, in order to realize their larger goal.
Are the Bobcats for real? The young 'Cats have already matched their win total from last season (seven), but two of their wins came over the still-winless Wizards. Have they taken a step forward or are they just the product of a weak schedule?
-- Louise, North Carolina
They've definitely taken a step forward, Louise. But they also were reminded of the facts of life Monday at Oklahoma City when the Thunder pulled their starters after seizing a 79-25 lead in the fifth minute of the second half. The Bobcats eventual 114-69 loss was the worst in the franchise's relatively short history.
Mike Dunlap was a terrific hire as a coach to lay down a foundation for Charlotte's young roster. Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been strong additions around Kemba Walker and Byron Mullens. This team is too young and lacking in firepower to challenge for the playoffs -- but then, the playoffs shouldn't be the goal for this year. The goal is to develop a style of play and an identity for the franchise while the Bobcats continue to invest in young talent. It's going to be a few years before we know whether the foundation is strong, but the seven early wins imply that they're on the right track.
Watching the Olympics here in London over the summer, there was one player who stood out as the winner of the "Wow, who the hell is that?!" award: Russia's Alexey Shved. Awesome court vision and decision making. Looks like he's doing a decent job for the Timberwolves in NBA Land now. What do you make of him? Any chance he'd make third place in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis?
-- Joe Richardson, London
He's a promising player, Joe, and Rick Adelman is the kind of coach to make the most of his ability to score and create for others. He isn't likely to surpass Lillard and Davis (a contender only if healthy), but Shved could make the Rookie of the Year ballot if he is seen as contributing to a winning team. Among the dozen rookies who are averaging 20 minutes or more per game, it looks as if Shved and Golden State's Harrison Barnes have the best hope of making the playoffs.
I still can't believe a college player scored 138 points in a game. I know no one in the NBA will ever approach that figure, but I wonder: Is Kobe's 81-point game the modern scoring benchmark? Do you see anyone surpassing that?
-- Derrick Jones, New York
It's going to require a tremendous scorer playing in an offense that generates a lot of possessions. When Chamberlain scored 100 points in 1962, he attempted 63 field goals (making 36 of them), and that amounted to little more than half of the 115 shots attempted by his Philadelphia Warriors that day.
The NBA game has slowed down enormously since then. When Bryant scored his 81 in Toronto in 2006, he attempted 46 shots -- or little more than half of the Lakers' 88 attempts. For Kobe's "modern" record to be broken, it's going to require a younger player in a competitive game who is taking advantage of an up-tempo offensive style that creates more possessions than normal. More teams appear to be pushing the pace, and so maybe we'll see Kevin Durant challenging Kobe's number someday. But I doubt it.
In Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue, a rival scout said that Jimmer Fredette had no future in the NBA. Well, Jimmer has responded, putting up a 23.6 PER in limited minutes off the Kings' bench. Were critics too quick to write his eulogy?
-- Jordan, Sacramento, Calif.
You're correct, Jordan, in that Fredette is shooting higher percentages (45 percent from three-point range and 51 percent overall) than last year. The scout was pointing out that at Fredette's size, he is going to have to be an exceptional shooter, become a more versatile scorer and show that he can be adequate defensively. He has a lot to prove, and I don't sense there are a lot of people in the league who believe he can prove it. But they've been wrong before.
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