The Los Angeles Lakers struggles this season have led to a lot of speculation about changes that will be made.
Both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard’s names have been floated in trade rumors, as the combination of the two has not led to much success on the court. More than halfway through the season, L.A. is still 3.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for the final playoff spot in the West.
Though many feel the Lakers should deal one of their big men, General Manager Mitch Kupchak said that won’t happen anytime soon.
"We will not make a trade," Kupchak told Newsday on Tuesday. "We will not trade Dwight Howard. We have no intention of making a trade. It's unlikely that we'll make any trade with any of our principal players. To make another change at this time of the year behind the eight-ball like we are, I think that would make it more difficult. The talent is there. We have to find our way."
L.A. may be in the process of improving, winning six of their last seven games. However, it could prove to be too little too late. They are still three games under .500 and will likely play one of the top seeds if they reach the postseason.
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Kupchak wants to make sure that the best center in the NBA is with Los Angeles for years to come. Howard, though, could be gone as soon as this upcoming offseason.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is set to be a free agent in the summer. The Lakers can offer him more money than any other team, and his preferred destination, the Brooklyn Nets, won’t have enough money to sign him. Still, if L.A. misses the playoffs, he could decide that a team like the Dallas Mavericks or Atlanta Hawks gives him the best chance to win.
The Lakers have tried to trade Gasol in the past, but might not be able to get a lot of value for him, at this point. He’s in the midst of the worst season of his career, averaging 13.4 points per game. It won’t be easy for the club to deal a 32-year-old that has battled injuries all season long and is set to make over $19 million in the 2013-2014 season.
Along with saying he probably won’t trade Howard or Gasol, Kupchak also gave Mike D’Antoni a vote confidence.
"We're very happy with Mike D'Antoni," Kupchak said. "I think when he took the job I think he thought Nash might be out a week or two. Not two months. Getting everybody on the same page took a little longer than expected. Not to say it's been smooth sailing, that's for sure."
The head coach is 17-21 with Los Angeles, and has had trouble utilizing his lineup of future Hall of Famers. D’Antoni relegated Gasol to a role on the bench and there have been reports that Howard isn’t happy with his coach’s decisions.
“Howard isn't comfortable playing the way D'Antoni wants him to,” wrote Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles in late January. “D'Antoni simply can't persuade him to give it a real shot.”
The Lakers brass may not want to make any big changes by the Feb.21 trade deadline. With a backcourt that features Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, it’s possible for this group of stars to turn things around.
However, there’s a decent chance that one of L.A.’s big names will be gone by next season.