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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Deep pockets key for Lakers

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The last place Phil Jackson expected to end up when he returned to coach the Los Angeles Lakers was the NBA Finals awards podium.

News photo
Key to victory: The addition of forward Pau Gasol gave the Los Angeles Lakers the elite player they needed to help Kobe Bryant and teammates win the NBA title. AP PHOTO

Sure, the Lakers had Kobe Bryant, but that was about it.

"I said that I would have to think about it a long time because this team is quite a ways from a championship even though Kobe Bryant always gives you a chance to win," Jackson recalled of his discussions with Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, his girlfriend, in 2005.

"So over the next 2 1/2 months I spent some time thinking about it and rekindling my energy to come back and coach, but when I came back I didn't anticipate we'd win. I'd be part of it. I thought maybe I'd build the steps to a winning team, but I didn't think I'd be part of it, and this is much quicker than I thought it would happen."

A good trade can do that.

The last two NBA champions have proved just that, and the next team willing to make a bold move might be the one sipping champagne next June.

But how many teams dare to do it during an uncertain economic climate?

NBA commissioner David Stern said before the finals that revenues could be down as much as 10 percent next season, and the league already has warned its teams that the salary cap is expected to decrease in the next few years.

That means some may have to put All-Star players on the market as a way to cut costs and avoid having to pay the luxury tax, and a team willing to open its wallet to acquire one of them could see a rapid reward.

Boston was coming off one of the worst seasons in its storied history when it traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in separate deals two summers ago. The Celtics surged to the best record in the NBA, the greatest one-season improvement in league history, and won their 17th championship by beating the Lakers last June.

By then, Los Angeles was clearly on the rise after acquiring Pau Gasol from Memphis at midseason. The Spanish forward averaged 18.6 points in the finals, joining Bryant to give the Lakers the 1-2 punch that every champion needs.

"He's a dominant post-up player, extremely versatile, makes great decisions, and obviously when we got him last year, that really took us to that next step," Bryant said.

Shaquille O'Neal, Amare Stoudemire and Vince Carter were among the players who were believed to be available at the trade deadline, but there were no significant moves.

The Cavaliers' Dan Gilbert will, vowing to do whatever it takes to show LeBron James the commitment to building a champion.

Dallas owner Mark Cuban has said he is open to taking on additional salary, but doesn't believe there will be many others, even after it seeing it work out for the Lakers and Celtics.

The NBA is a superstar's league, and they don't come cheap. The Cavaliers, Lakers and Celtics, who had the league's three top records, had three of the five highest payrolls.

Gasol will cost the Lakers nearly $35 million in salary over the next two seasons. So as good as he is, Gasol wasn't sure he would ever get his wish to get out of Memphis because not many teams are willing or able to take on that kind of commitment.

"But the day that I was traded, I couldn't believe it," Gasol said. "It was such a beautiful day for me, and then also, I think the Lakers were pretty happy with it, too."

So money can buy happiness.

Who else is willing to try?

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