The Conference Finals: The four trades that got us here

We’re down to four teams…Cavs/Magic…Lakers/Nuggets…

What do they have in common? Star power, efficient offense, pretty solid defense, good coaching…check, check, check and check.

But how about an aggressive front office?

Each of these four teams made a major trade in the last two years.

July 11, 2007: The Magic sign Rashard Lewis
This was a sign-and-trade, not a straight free agent signing, but the Magic only had to give up a conditional second round pick. The upside for the then-Seattle Supersonics was a trade exception worth $9 million. The contract (six years, $110 million) seemed outlandish at the time, and Lewis is still overpaid, but the Magic did what they had to do to get him. He’s a great fit for what Orlando is trying to do. They are built like the Rockets were in the Hakeem Olajuwon era — find a big man who commands a double-team, and surround him with great shooters. Lewis is the Magic’s version of Robert Horry in that he’s a lanky, versatile, sharpshooting big man. Strength-wise, he’s not built like a typical power forward, but since the NBA has gotten smaller and quicker over the past few years, he can get by against most teams. Offensively, he creates all sorts of problems for opposing power forwards as he can drill the long ball (career 39% from 3PT) or take it to the rack. He’s also pretty good in the post when teams try to defend him with a smaller player.

Sure, the Magic overpaid on that contract, but I think it’s safe to say that if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be in the Eastern Conference Finals right now. Lewis is a big, big part of Orlando’s recent success. GM Otis Smith deserves a lot of credit for having the cojones to pull the trigger on this deal.

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Are the Lakers already in trouble?

Despite being outmuscled and outhustled by the Boston Celtics in the Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers enter the season as the odds-on favorite to win the title. With the up-and-coming Andrew Bynum returning from injury, their status as favorites does some sense. But there is already trouble in Lala Land, as the coaching staff can’t figure out how to best utilize the talent on the roster. There are two issues at hand: 1) Lamar Odom is in the final year of his contract and has always been a bad fit for the triangle offense and 2) it’s no sure thing that Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol can play well together.

Heading into the season, the team seemed intent on moving Gasol to power forward and starting Bynum at center, so much so that Phil Jackson suggested that Lamar Odom might come off the bench. While the trio would make a long and formidable frontline, none of them can hit a jumper outside of 15 feet, and even that’s a stretch. Defenses would simply pack the lane, which would make it next to impossible for Kobe Bryant to get to the rim.

For his part, Odom bristled at the idea of coming off the bench.

“He must have woke up and bumped his head. He probably hit his head on something — boom,” Odom said about Jackson. “To start off like that, you’ve got to be out of your . . . mind.”

“I’ll make you a deal. If my armpits smell like roses, I’ll come off the bench.”

I could write a thousand words about why Odom’s umbrage at the prospect of moving to a sixth man role proves that he’s selfish and thinking only (or mainly) of himself, but suffices to say, he’s in the final year of his contract and he doesn’t want his stats to take a hit. The better his numbers, the better the contract he’s going to get next summer.

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