- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lakers management knew what it was doing all along, huh?

This summer Kobe Bryant — on the eve of turning 29 and seeing his team lose out in the Kevin Garnett sweepstakes — panicked and wanted either the Lakers to make a big move to give him some more help or trade him elsewhere so he could have a shot at winning a fourth title.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak won the stare down, holding on to both Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the promising third-year center whom potential trade mates coveted.

Then on Friday Kupchak took advantage of the Memphis Grizzlies’ salary-dumping mode and got them to take Kwame Brown and his expiring contract, two first-round picks and two other players in exchange for Pau Gasol.

With the acquisition of the 7-foot Spaniard, a 2006 All-Star who is averaging 18.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, the Lakers are serious contenders.

Bynum, who is having a career year (13.2 points, 10.2 rebounds), is out for another six weeks with a dislocated knee cap. But when he returns, Phil Jackson will trot out a lineup of Bryant, Lamar Odom, Gasol, Bynum and Derek Fisher.

“Add Andrew back to the mix and Pau and [me] a 6-foot-10, 6-11 small forward with Kobe, our scorers are hard to cut off,” Odom said. “Plus you’ve got two shot blockers 7-foot, 7-foot-1 waiting at the rim. It’s gonna make us a better all-around team.”

Kobe’s definitely smiling now. Suddenly the Lakers go from being a not-quite-there team to taking on what resembles the old Chicago Bulls.

Most dominant guard in the game in Kobe = Michael Jordan. Versatile point forward in Odom = Scottie Pippen. Lengthy European in Gasol = Toni Kukoc. They don’t have a Dennis Rodman, but Bynum is twice the scorer and rebounder Luc Longley was, and seasoned veteran Derek Fisher is a better point guard than B.J. Armstrong.

Now, this isn’t to say that Kobe & Co. are about to go on a three-title spree. But what Gasol gives the Lakers is a greater hope.

“He’s a skilled player,” Jackson said Sunday at Verizon Center. “He can shoot the ball, pass and do a lot of things. In this game, size helps a lot, and we haven’t had a scoring post since [Andrew] Bynum’s been out, so [Gasol] can help us a little bit and take some pressure off Kobe.”

And the trade gives last year’s top three Western Conference teams — San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas — reason to worry. The Spurs have struggled with age and injury for much of this season. The Suns have firepower, but they don’t play defense. The Mavericks are up-and-down this season and have proved in the playoffs over the years that they lack the heart and that it-factor needed to win big games.

The Lakers have been one of the highest-scoring teams in the league without Gasol.

So far this season the Lakers are 1-2 against the Spurs, 2-1 against the Suns and 1-1 against the Mavericks. You can dismiss that, though. The matchup problems have changed.

Consider Lakers vs. Spurs:

Say Tim Duncan guards Gasol. That leaves Bynum to feast on Fabricio Oberto. Tony Parker gets Derek Fisher, but then what will the Spurs do about Bryant and Odom?

Normally, lockdown defender Bruce Bowen takes Kobe. So shooting guard Michael Finley on the 6-10 Odom? Manu Ginobili on Kobe? Lakers foes definitely will have problems.

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