Tuesday, August 7, 2007

O'Neal-Byrant: Together again?

No, not Shaquille O'Neal. But according to Arash Markazi over at CNNSI.com, Jermaine O'Neal has very clearly told the Pacers management that he has no interest in being part of a youth movement in Indiana, and that he'd welcome a trade to the L.A. Lakers.

The hold-up seems to be that the Pacers want the Lakers to include both Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, but the Lakers don't want to give up Bynum. Umm...excuse me? I can certainly understand why the Lakers don't want to give up both players for O'Neal, but I don't understand why Bynum is the stumbling block. If anything, the Pacers' insistence on getting Odom should be the stumbling block.

I look at the Lakers, and I see a team that is basically in the same position the Celtics were in after they had traded for Ray Allen, but before they had traded for Kevin Garnett. They have two current all-star (or better) caliber talents (Kobe and Odom playing the role of Pierce and Allen) and a potential future all-star (Bynum playing the role of Al Jefferson) who is unlikely to fully develop before the current stars begin to fade. Jefferson is probably a little closer to fully blossoming than Bynum, but Pierce and Allen are also a little older than Bryant and Odom.

Trading Odom for O'Neal basically keeps the Lakers in the same place they are right now in the Western Conference. They improve their interior defense, but they lose Odom's versatility on the other end. I don't see how this very slight improvement (at best) is worth giving up a potential future star. On the other hand, adding O'Neal to the core of Kobe and Odom is certainly worth trading away a potential future star. The Lakers would then have Kobe, Odom, and O'Neal to build around--three all-star caliber players entering their prime, instead of two all-star caliber players and a potential star. The Celtics made the trade for KG, shipping out their potential all-star in Jefferson, to make a run for the title, and I think the Lakers could put themselves in a similar position if they would agree to give up Bynum in a trade that enabled them to keep Odom.

The Lakers and Celtics have been connected for a long time, so I think it would be only fitting if this off-season would see them both making similar moves that returned them both to title contention. With Kobe, Odom, and O'Neal, the Lakers would be real title contenders again, not just the pretenders (good, but not nearly good enough) that they have been the last two seasons.

[Update: ESPN's version of this story includes the tidbit that the Lakers reportedly have made a trade offer that includes Andrew Bynum.
However, talks with the Pacers to acquire their own disgruntled star have stalled over Indiana's insistence that the Lakers' package include both Lamar Odom and 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum. The Lakers reportedly have countered with an offer that would send Kwame Brown, Brian Cook and Bynum to the Pacers.
If true (that the Lakers are finally relenting on their insistence that Bynum not be traded and are refusing to trade Odom as part of the package), then two big thumbs up to Mitch Kupchak.]

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