JOHN IRELAND BLOG  |  ESPN Los Angeles

Gasol trade worked out for both sides

February 2, 2010, 10:47 AM

By: John Ireland

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Some trades -- not many, but some -- work out for both sides.

Exactly two years ago, Feb. 1, 2008, the Lakers made the trade heard 'round the world: Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, Marc Gasol and two No. 1 picks for Pau Gasol and a second-round pick.

Ever since, the Lakers have won more games than any other NBA team and have made the NBA Finals twice. Gasol has been the perfect complement to Kobe Bryant, and is a natural fit for Phil Jackson's triangle system. As I've written before, it's almost like he was created to play on this team, in this offense.

His ability to pass from both the high and low posts gives him tons of opportunities, and because he can catch and finish with either hand at the basket, it allows every other player to slash toward the hoop at free will. If Gasol's defender leaves -- even for a second -- Pau gets the ball and makes him pay. His basketball IQ, combined with his athleticism, allows him to flourish with the Lakers more than he would with another team.

Pau was a star player in Memphis, and remains the Grizzlies' all-time leading scorer. But his unique set of skills couldn't be maximized. He didn't pass like he does in L.A., because in Memphis, he was best option to score. He didn't get looks close to the basket in Memphis, because he had no Kobe Bryant to draw the defense away. He was good with the Grizzlies, but he's even better with the Lakers.

The Gasol trade remains the crown jewel of Mitch Kupchak's career as an executive, and probably changed his legacy forever. Remember, five months before Kupchak made the Gasol deal, Kobe was demanding a trade.

But I think there is a misconception out there that the Grizzlies got robbed in the Gasol deal. Trust me, they didn't.

Two years ago, it was regarded as one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. People all over the NBA heavily criticized the Grizzlies for giving the Lakers the Western Conference. When it happened, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was in disbelief.

"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension," Popovich said at the time. "There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade."

Now that Memphis is winning, I asked a guy I know who works for the Grizzlies to break down the trade from a Memphis perspective. Here's what he sent me:

"John,

"We used the 2008 Lakers first round pick to acquire the draft rights to Darrell Arthur, who will return sometime this month after missing all of the season thus far due to pectoral surgery. He made 64 starts last season.

"We traded Javaris Crittenton to the Washington Wizards to reacquire one of our own first round picks that we originally gave to Washington for the draft rights to Juan Carlos Navarro, who since signed to play in Spain again.

"We also have the Lakers' 2010 first round pick (We also have our own and the Nuggets after acquiring Steven Hunter) and obviously Marc Gasol.

"Also, the money we saved on Pau's deal allowed us to assume the contract of Zach Randolph last season, when we essentially traded Darko Milicic for him (Darko for Quentin Richardson first, then Quentin to LAC for Randolph). Pau and Zach are earning similar amount.

"So essentially we have been able to add Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the NBA's top rebounding duo from the deal. If healthy, Darrell was going to be our first big off the bench. And we added two first rounders (2010 Lakers pick and the pick we reacquired from the Wizards for Javaris Crittenton)."

Most importantly, the Grizzlies are winning again. Playing in the NBA's best division, they're 25-21 overall and 17-6 at home. Randolph is headed for the All-Star Game, and both Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo are in the Rookie Challenge game on All-Star Weekend. Speaking of Marc Gasol, he's one of the leading candidates for the NBA's most improved award, averaging career highs in scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounds (9.7).

Memphis has been so good, that last week, Gregg Popovich changed his mind about what he said two years ago.

"They gave up a great player but it helped them extend the franchise's success into the future," Popovich says now. "It's shown that they've done a good job. Whatever they were thinking a couple of iterations ahead at the time has paid off for them."

And remember, if Memphis takes advantage of the two No. 1 picks it has in this year's draft, it could get even better for the Grizzlies.

Not that the Lakers have any trade remorse. Since Pau arrived, he has the highest winning percentage of a Lakers starter in team history. And remarkably, since the day he arrived, the Lakers' longest losing streak is two. The season before Gasol came to L.A., the team suffered losing streaks of seven, six and four games.

Some NBA trades actually work out for both sides, and as lopsided as it once looked, this appears to be one.

John Ireland is a co-host of the "Mason & Ireland Show" on 710 ESPN in Los Angeles.

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