- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Once the NBA Finals succumbed to a plethora of hosannas being showered on Kobe Bryant, a nagging question surfaced.

What was Chris Wallace thinking? No, really?

It was Wallace who traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers on Feb. 1, 2008, which, of course, led to the celebratory riots in Los Angeles this week.

Gasol meshed perfectly with Bryant’s enormous ego because he does not need a lot of touches or shots to be effective and because complaining about the stupidity of it all would not lead to a satisfying outcome. That is the lesson Gasol gathered from Shaquille O’Neal anyway.

So Gasol averaged 18.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 0.0 criticisms in these playoffs while shooting 58 percent from the field and being the force in the three-second lane that allowed the Lakers to claim their 15th championship in franchise history.

Gasol’s availability came about because of Wallace’s big idea to clear salary cap space, which is never a good idea except for its buying-time yield.

Everyone knows you are going to be lousy for a spell, so the boo-birds and radio call-in general managers hold off on the vitriol in the beginning. You buy yourself time. You also buy yourself a whole lot of losses.

The Lakers bought a championship with this move, just as the Celtics did last June after securing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen the previous summer, which is instructive.

The genesis of the last two NBA championships was the splashy deal, antithetical to the build-through-the-draft approach of the Spurs. Their four championships took seed after they landed Tim Duncan in the lottery in 1997, then took Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in 1999 and Tony Parker with the 28th pick in 2001. And let’s not forget that David Robinson - another lucky-lottery No. 1 pick - was part of the team’s first two championships.

The Cavaliers are next in line to make a deal that leads to a championship. Steve Kerr is playing the role of Wallace as the down-on-his-luck general manager looking to clear O’Neal’s $20 million salary off the Suns’ accounting books.

Danny Ferry wants to help Kerr solve his accounting problem, stick O’Neal with LeBron James and take a championship bow with the Cavaliers next June.

That sounds like a plan, far better than the one that awaits most teams in the NBA Draft on June 25. There, general managers and coaches choose among the attitudinally challenged, the layup-drill maestros who break hearts and the can’t-play-a-lick busts.

Then, of course, somewhere in the second round - long after David Stern has retired for the night - an enterprising personnel guru selects a future All-Star.

Not that anyone knows it at the time.

First-round picks wear fancy suits and broad smiles. Second-round picks wear that dazed-eye, nonguaranteed-money look.

Ernie Grunfeld chose Michael Redd in the second round in 2000 and believed he made another brilliant stroke with Andray Blatche in 2005.

Blatche has become the great teaser in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood. Some nights, you think, “This guy, if he ever gets it, is going to be somebody.” Other nights, you think, “How did I fall for him again?”

To hear the rest of the NBA tell it, the Wizards’ No. 5 pick is highly intriguing, possibly because it is an open secret that Grunfeld is inclined to use it as a bargaining chip in a package deal.

The package of players is anyone’s guess given the glut of speculation on the Internet. Today’s hot rumor is tomorrow’s fantasy that never was.

Ricky Rubio’s advisers have made it clear they do not think the point guard will fit with Gilbert Arenas, which means they must have received a positive medical report on the one who is eternally in recovery.

Between now and the start of training camp in October - and especially in the next eight days - the rallying cry of Grunfeld and the Wizards should be “Determined to make a deal.”


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