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Lakers make a big trade

Jason Lewis | 2/6/2008, 5 p.m.

The Lakers have finally made a deal that can position them as true contenders, and they didn't even have to give up Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom to make the deal happen. The trade has made a number of teams worry, and it looks like it caused the Phoenix Suns to trade for Shaquelle O'Neal. Pending a physical, that deal is done.

Seven-foot Pau Gasol will be coming over to the Lakers for next to nothing. Kwame Brown, who has been getting booed at home lately, will go to Memphis, along with seldom used rookie point guard Javaris Crittenton, and first round draft picks in 2008 and 2010.
Those two first round draft picks probably will not be very good because the Lakers should make it deep into the playoffs, and could possibly win an NBA title with this group. L.A. could win multiple titles over the next five or so years.
The timing of the deal couldn't be any better. Bynum will be out for another six weeks and the Lakers have struggled since he injured his knee. The Lakers were in first place in the Western Conference when Bynum got hurt, now they are three games behind the Phoenix Suns.
The addition of Gasol should allow the Lakers to keep pace with the top teams in the conference. When Bynum rejoins the team the Lakers will be very hard to defeat.
The move makes Odom their fourth option. As the second option over the last few years Odom has failed, as he has been very inconsistent. But now the Lakers will not have to depend on him with the emergence of Bynum and the trade for Gasol.
The Lakers went from a team that could not make it out of the first round to a team that could be raising more banners at Staples Center.
The Lakers front office has taken nothing but grief, deservingly so, since they traded O'Neal away for a bunch of spare parts. Through a number of trades, the Lakers have turned that trade into Gasol, Odom, and Farmer (who the drafted with one of the draft picks that they received from the Heat). At this point, all three of those players are more productive than O'Neal.
If the Lakers had held onto Shaq, another title would have been doubtful. Since the trade, O'Neal's first season was the only productive, bringing the Heat a title that year.
Last year O'Neal was a shell of his former self, and this year he has not given his team much of anything, averaging a career low 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. There was some talk that the Heat hoped that he would retire after this season so they could avoid paying him $40 million over the next two contracted seasons.
The Heat has the worst record in the league (9-37), and O'Neal has already missed 14 games this season.
It is surprising that the Heat found a team who was willing to take O'Neal and his large contract. O'Neal could also slow down the Suns run-and-gun attack, so much so that the team is worse off with O'Neal.
The Suns sent over Shawn Marion, who is one of their few good defenders. O'Neal is expected to improve the Suns defense, especially when they play against bigger lineups, but O'Neal has not played good defense in years.
The Suns strength is their speed, and now they have gotten slower. They have been a bad defensive team over the past few years, and now they have traded away their best defender. So it is not hard to see why Lakers fans are feel pretty good right now. And the Suns are stuck with O'Neal's contract, so they will not be able to improve their roster over the next two seasons.
As for the notion that O'Neal will be motivated enough to get himself back in shape, half of the season is gone. Players do not get in shape during the season, they get in shape leading into the season. O'Neal entered the '03-'04 season with the Lakers out of shape, and he was never able to get himself back into shape.
It would be very interesting to see the Lakers and Suns match up against each other in the playoffs. The Lakers might finally get past the Suns.
As for Gasol, he scored 24 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in his first appearance with the Lakers. The Lakers will finish up their nine game road trip with games at Orlando, Miami, Charlotte, and Minnesota. Only Orlando has a winning record in that group, so the Lakers could enter the All Star break on a high note, and they could possibly catch the Suns in the standings.
The way it looks right now, order has been restored. The Celtics are the best team in the East, and the Lakers could emerge as the best team in the West.