Is it a good idea to break up the most dominant big-man tandem in the league today to put together perhaps the greatest backcourt in NBA history?
The Los Angeles Lakers were willing to make one of the biggest gambles the game has ever seen to find out the answer.
The Lakers ended up heeding Magic Johnson's advice after all on Thursday and blew up the core that won them an average of 59 games, took them to three NBA Finals and won them two NBA championships in the last four seasons to see what's behind Door No. 2.
Hello, Chris Paul? Goodbye, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom?
After the trade was initially reported, the league office protested the decision, putting the move in peril.
This is unprecedented stuff. We don't know where we'll go from here, but let's talk about what this trade would mean should it go through.
The trade talk has already won the Lakers the award for stealing the show on a day when the show wasn't supposed to be able to be stolen. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had already signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson Thursday morning. The NBA ratified a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement that officially put an end to the harrowing lockout that threatened to strangle the life out of the sport of professional basketball as we know it in this country for five long months.
Winning the battle for the sporting world's attention is one thing.
The only issue that matters right now when considering this deal is: Will it help the Lakers win more ballgames?
Does it make the Lakers better?
No offense to Chris Paul -- he's a true floor general, a top-15 player in the game and even more than that, widely considered to be the best in the league at the all-important position of point guard -- but unless another deal is to follow to bulk up the Lakers' suddenly threadbare front line, I don't see how it does.
The Lakers went from having a top-five center in Andrew Bynum, a top-five power forward in Gasol and the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year in Odom, who could fill in ably for either of them, to possibly having just Bynum, a guy who has played in only 204 out of a possible 328 regular-season games (62.2 percent) the last four seasons.
Without another deal coming down the pike, the Lakers (as currently constructed) could spend the first five games of the 2011-12 season while Bynum serves a suspension for a playoff hit on Dallas' J.J. Barea with some combination of these six players starting at small forward, power forward and center: Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes, Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks.
Do any of those players sound like a starting center to you? Do any of them sound like a starting power forward?
Even when Bynum is back in the lineup after the suspension and is completely healthy and doesn't miss a game because of injury, who comes in for him when he gets into foul trouble? How good are Kobe Bryant and Paul going to look together on offense if teams can ignore the interior and blitz the perimeter?
One league source with decades of front-office experience was shocked that the Lakers would make the trade.
"This is suicide," the source said. "Chris Paul is good, but you don't trade two bigs for a small in the NBA. Ever. The only way this works is if you know you're getting [Dwight] Howard back. You have to know that though before you do this deal or it's suicide."
Ah yes, Dwight Howard. The one name that can be added to the equation to have this all make sense.
If the Lakers end up pulling off the double coup of the century and land both Paul and Howard, as ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported from the start was their intention, then they are indeed better than the team that got swept out of the second round last spring.
According to ESPN's CBA guru Larry Coon, the Lakers will receive two trade exceptions from the Paul deal if it happens -- one for Odom's salary ($8.9 million) and another for the difference between Gasol's and Paul's salaries ($2,354,345).
That big Odom exception could be just the piece L.A. needs to facilitate a deal with Orlando. The Lakers could send Bynum and the exception and receive Howard and Hedo Turkoglu. Obviously Turkoglu isn't a prototypical power forward, but he'd be better than the alternatives that the Lakers have at the present moment having only pulled off the Paul trade. And putting together a "Big Three" on the level of Bryant, Paul and Howard comes with the sacrifice of a couple other pieces being less than ideal. Just ask the Heat, who played Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Eddie House big minutes last season. But it'd be worth it. Oh boy, it'd be worth it.
And while it might not seem like that deal would be enough for Orlando to pull the trigger, consider this: The Magic could get out from Turkoglu's contract, amnesty Gilbert Arenas' deal, avoid taking any bad salaries back because of the trade exception, and rebuild around Bynum as the centerpiece for their franchise.
So, would the Lakers be better today if they make the Paul trade? No. Not yet. Not if there isn't the Howard trade to follow.
But, if Superman ends up following Paul out West to create Run KDC? The Lakers won't have just a chance to claim the best backcourt in NBA history, but one of the best teams in NBA history as well.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.