Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is dealing with a lot of internal problems.
First, he appears to be undermined by Jim Buss, L.A.'s executive vice president, who reportedly has been steadfast in holding onto Andrew Bynum, even if it means blocking a deal for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. The Lakers would probably be better off with Howard, but the Magic might not be interested in dealing their prized star to the Lakers at this point.
This is how Ken Berger of CBSSports.com subtly described the Lakers' management: The Lakers' front office is an uncommunicative, rudderless fiasco, and the unrest and paranoia that have been festering for years threaten to derail the team's plans to ride Bryant to his sixth NBA title while they still can. And much of it can be traced to the growing influence of executive vice president Jim Buss, the owner's bon vivant son, who has helped transform a great franchise into a steaming pool of nepotism and nincompoops.
Even Magic Johnson weighed in on Buss and Kupchak.
[Kupchak is] not running the team, Johnson said. Jim Buss is running the team. So, Mitch has to follow the direction of Jim Buss and what he wants. I wouldn't say Mitch is the problem or anything. He's going to do his job.
It's hard to comprehend Kupchak's position at this point. Is he calling the shots or is Buss calling the shots? Can he make a deal without consulting Buss? Would Buss pull off a trade behind Kupchak's back?
Then there's the issue with Kobe Bryant. The Lakers star desperately wants to win another title, and has no idea what the front office is doing about it. He wasn't consulted when the team hired Mike Brown as head coach, and apparently has no say whether his teammate Pau Gasol moves on from the club.
The Lakers held a players' only meeting about the trade talks involving Gasol after Monday's win over Portland, and Bryant has openly stated that the Lakers need to make a firm decision on Gasol, and do it soon.
Kupchak has said that the team would keep its options open, and with the trade deadline on Mar. 15, Kupchak certainly doesn't want to force a deal like he had to with Lamar Odom in the offseason.
It remains unclear what the Lakers will do with what they received from Odom -- a $8.9 million trade exception and a protected first round pick.
For now, it is Gasol at the heart of trade rumors, but there is no legitimate deal out there. The one that has circulated the most is a trade for Michael Beasley of the Timberwolves. Minnesota would have to include other players due to salary cap issues, which means the Wolves may have to give up under-achieving rookie Derrick Williams and veteran point guard Luke Ridnour, as well as perhaps center Nikola Pekovic. Minnesota has no intention of dealing Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio.
Such a deal would strengthen the Lakers' bench, but Los Angeles would have a huge void in the paint. At 7'0, Gasol is an effective player in the low post and has a very good mid-range shot.
Gasol is very valuable to the Lakers beyond his past efforts. The veteran has always played well with Bryant, and has basically served as the club's backup center. Few players can complement Bryant the way Gasol has, and there are barely any players in the NBA that have Gasol's skill set.
A smaller trade involving the Lakers might include Ramon Sessions. The 25-year-old point guard is one of the more under-rated players in the NBA. Sessions is averaging 10.3 points per game this season, and the Lakers could use an athletic small guard for scoring and defense.
It's unclear what the Lakers would have to give up to get Sessions, but it might include Steve Blake and draft picks. A deal for Sessions may have to wait until the Lakers get a better idea of how Gilbert Arenas can fit into their plans.
Bryant and Laker fans have high expectations for the team, and a mid-season deal might be the best way to get them out of their doldrums. Expect a deal by Mar. 15 as Kupchak hits the phones.
Or is it Buss who will hit the phones?