NBA Playoffs: Gasol - 'One of the greatest trades ever'
Posted: 9:52 PM- If there was a vote for the most valuable player during the Jazz-Lakers playoff series, Memphis Grizzlies' owner Michael Heisley might win.
In a cost-cutting move, Heisley approved a Feb. 1 trade that sent former All-Star center Pau Gasol and a future second-round draft pick to Los Angeles for next-to-nothing: the expiring contract of Kwame Brown, unproved rookie Jarvaris Crittenton, the contract of retired guard Aaron McKie and two future first-round picks.
Instantly, the Lakers went from one of seven legitimate contenders in the Western Conference to the unanimous favorite, and that's how the regular season played out.
With Gasol in the starting lineup, the Lakers went 22-5 down the stretch and earned the No. 1 seed in the West.
On Friday night, L.A. went into Game 6 of the its playoff series against the Jazz within one win of the conference finals for the first time since 2004.
"Gasol has made them an excellent team," said the Jazz's Jarron Collins. "They get a lot of penetration with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher ducking his head in there and, running the triangle, he's a very intelligent player and a good finisher around the basket. He's really long and he's been really, really effective playing for them."
"Arguably," he said, "that's got to be one of the greatest trades ever."
In the first five games of the Jazz series, Gasol averaged 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists. He shot 59.7 percent from the field and, in pivotal Game 5, his rebound basket with 20.5 seconds left iced a 111-104 win.
With Memphis, Gasol never won a playoff game.
With the Lakers, Game 6 gave Gasol a chance to reach the conference finals.
"Obviously we want to take advantage of the opportunity we have here," he said after Friday morning's shootaround. "We know it's going to be a very tough game. We know this team is not going to give up. They haven't given up [in] one game yet, so they are going to fight. They are real comfortable here in their place so it's going to be tough."
A key to the outcome, Gasol predicted, would be the Lakers' ability to limit the effectiveness of Jazz forward Carlos Boozer. With Gasol as the primary defender, Boozer averaged 16.8 points in the first five games, but he shot only 42.1 percent.
"Obviously, when you can keep one of their main scorers under control, you give yourself a better chance to win the ballgame," Gasol said. "If we are able to control Boozer and make [Deron] Williams shoot a low percentage . . . we'll have a better chance. But it's hard. They are great players."