Countdown to Christmas: Best-case scenario

The question is a fairly simple one, “What’s the best-case scenario for the Lakers?”

My first thought probably didn’t answer the question but remains as true today as it was last week, when the Lakers began engaging in more talks than a nervous fantasy owner.

“The best-case scenario is Jim Buss knows what he's doing and doesn’t run this team into the ground.”

Overdramatic? Perhaps, but after seeing what has happened to the Lakers since the start of training camp it’s hard not to wonder what’s going on.

The Lakers let Shannon Brown go to the Phoenix Suns over a $1.1 million difference in salary then traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for an $8.9 million trade exception. Meanwhile they have so far struck out in their attempts to trade for Chris Paul and/or Dwight Howard while teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and New Jersey Nets have reportedly inched past them in trade talks for both players.

So the Lakers lost two of their top five players, at least statistically, to conference rivals and got nothing in return except a $10 million saving on their payroll and have yet to land one of the superstar players they coveted coming into this season.

Other than that, you know, things are going well.

Now I’m sure that $10 million saving will go a long way in the Buss household this holiday season, but the Buss family has never been known to cut corners when it comes to the Lakers. They routinely have the highest payroll in the league, and that has resulted in 10 NBA titles since 1979, when Jerry Buss bought the team.

This is a transition period, however, for the Lakers. Jerry’s son, Jim, is slowly taking over the reins of the team, and his first move was essentially to sweep away anyone associated with Phil Jackson, who had won 11 championships in Chicago and Los Angeles, and bring in Mike Brown, who was fired after five seasons in Cleveland after he was unable to lead LeBron James and the Cavaliers to a title.

The transition from Jackson to Brown, who couldn’t be any more different as coaches, was already going to be hard before the front office essentially replaced Odom and Shannon Brown with Jason Kapono and Josh McRoberts. This was a team that clearly needed to make some changes after getting swept out of the second round by the Mavericks and losing the clinching game by 36 points. None of the moves they have made thus far, however, have improved the team. If anything they have pushed it closer to getting swept out of the first round this season rather than the second round.

But maybe Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak know what they are doing here. Maybe the seemingly cost-cutting moves they made earlier are a part of a larger plan to bring in either Paul or Howard and everything will be OK in the Land O’ Lakers again.

The best-case scenario at this point is for the Lakers to swing a deal for Paul in which they only have to give up Pau Gasol, the Odom trade exception and draft picks or a trade for Howard in which they only have to give up Andrew Bynum, the Odom trade exception and draft picks. That might seem like a long shot, but if the Lakers have to give up Gasol, Bynum and Odom to get one of those guys, they’ve scarified way too much for one player. In the case of Paul, they would have given up their three big men for a 6-foot point guard with suspect knees.

So if the stars can somehow align for the Lakers and they are able to pair Paul and Bynum or Gasol and Howard with Kobe, the Lakers suddenly go from a team that is out of the playoffs in the second round to a championship contender and likely the favorite in the West.

Make no mistake about it, any best-case scenario option for the Lakers now hinges on them acquiring either Paul or Howard without having to gut their entire front line in the process. As it stands now they are a worse team on paper than the team that got swept out of the playoffs last season, and the only way to prevent that from happening again this season is to acquire a superstar player such as Paul or Howard.