At the conclusion of the NBA draft last week, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the Lakers were trying to hit a home run this offseason. Generally speaking, the assumption was it would have to come with a trade of either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports the Lakers have agreed on a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns netting them two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash. L.A. will give him a three-year deal worth more than $25 million. The Lakers will absorb Nash into the trade exception created last year in the deal sending Lamar Odom to Dallas. The Suns will also receive L.A.'s first-round picks in 2013 and 2015, plus second-rounders in 2013 and 2014.
It's hard to say exactly where this places the Lakers in the Western Conference because there are still so many directions they could go with the roster from here, but as it stands now, L.A. is back in the conversation. Deep into it, I would say, and once again Lakers fans have tangible evidence of the team's commitment to winning. I've been pessimistic about the team's chances of improving enough to legitimately contend over the next year or two, but the Lakers have taken a giant step toward proving me (and many others) wrong. I certainly didn't see this coming.
There is a ton to absorb here, but a few quick thoughts:
1. The major problem with trades involving either Bynum or Gasol is that in either case it was hard to improve. Both of those guys are already outstanding and fundamentally weren't the problem last season. Here, though, the Lakers acquire an elite player without sending talent out the door.
2. Worried about Nash's age? Don't be. He is still a remarkably consistent performer. Over the past five seasons, his efficiency rating (PER) has been between 19.55 and 21.67 (20.29 last year), true shooting percentage between 60.1 and 64.1 (62.5 last year), and assists/40 minutes between 11.7 and 13.7 (13.5 in '11-'12). Nash kept a fairly limited Suns squad in playoff contention last season, shooting 53.2 percent from the field, and 39 percent from 3-point range. He is an incredibly effective offensive player, even at 38 years old.
3. The Lakers have instantly gone from a staid, struggling team on offense to one with life and excitement. Nash at the point, Kobe Bryant on the wing, with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum up front (at least for now)? Good luck guarding those guys. The potential for spectacularly entertaining basketball is very, very strong and needless to say L.A.'s pick and roll game ought to improve by leaps and bounds in 2012-13.
4. Acquiring Nash obviously raises the same "How does Kobe work with an elite point guard?" questions prompted by last season's vetoed Chris Paul trade. Devastating a shooter as Nash is, he's someone who needs the ball in his hands a ton to be at his most effective. How exactly it'll look on the floor is tough to say right now, but just as he does Paul, Kobe has incredible respect for Nash. I don't anticipate problems with the two of them coexisting, beyond a normal adjustment period. Not only are the Lakers in better shape to help Kobe get his sixth title, Nash's presence could easily add a couple more productive years to Kobe's career, thanks to all the work he won't have to do generating offense. Conversely, the presence of Bryant and the bigs will take a lot of pressure off Nash, increasing his odds of staying at this level through the three years of his contract with the Lakers.
Between Bryant, Nash and Gasol, the Lakers have three of the highest basketball IQs the game has ever seen. If things click, the results should be beautiful. Defensively there could be problems, but Nash really isn't substantively worse on that side of the ball than the PG's L.A. has used over the last half decade. Having size behind Nash will help, and the boost he gives the offense mitigates some of his deficiencies at the other end.
5. A huge question here is payroll. Obviously, the Lakers just added a major expense, and what they do in response remains to be seen. Does this increase the need to move Gasol? Does it impact their ability to extend Bynum beyond this season? Does this impact any Bynum-for-Dwight Howard conversations? I don't know. It's reasonable to expect a cost-cutting move somewhere (Metta World Peace seems more likely to get amnestied, for example), but the Lakers could play this in any number of ways. What I don't think they'll do -- or at the very least, hope they don't do -- is rob Peter to pay Paul. Adding Nash doesn't have the same impact if they dump too much talent in an effort to save money.
This is a win-now move. Undercutting it with save-now countermoves turns good money into bad.
6. With the presence of Nash, Kobe and two talented big men, if the Lakers can find a spot-up shooter on the wing and shore up the bench, they'll be in fantastic shape. Absorbing Nash into their trade exception raises the odds of successfully doing both. The Lakers still have a mini mid-level contract to offer, and have instantly made themselves a much more attractive destination for ring-hunting veterans willing to play for the minimum.
7. This ends the Ramon Sessions era in Los Angeles, as a source told ESPN LA's Ramona Shelburne the team is no longer pursuing the free-agent guard.
8. The next time someone tells you Jim Buss isn't interested in winning, you have your rebuttal.
9. The next time you see Suns owner Robert Sarver and team president Lon Babby, give 'em a hug. They traded Nash to a division rival, in part because they respected his desire both to win and stay close to his three children in Phoenix. (The draft picks help, obviously.) Suns fans might get just a touch apoplectic over this, but Lakers fans owe the Suns' brass some thanks.
10. Who needs Fourth of July fireworks, right?