There are 10 quality teams in the NBA's Western Conference, all scratching and clawing for playoff positions and seeding.
And nine of those teams were blindsided Friday Pau, right in the kisser.
Danny Ainge, thought of as a shoo-in for the NBA executive of the year award for fleecing the Minnesota Timberwolves and Seattle Sonics to get Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, respectively, for his Boston Celtics, now has some competition. The Lakers' Mitch Kupchack pulled off the in-season trade of the year in landing star power forward/center Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for, well, next to nothing.
Kobe's happy about it. Jack Nicholson's happy about it. Even David Stern is happy about it, since it's always good for the league when the Lakers are contenders.
But the rest of the Western Conference would like to strangle Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace.
"What is Memphis trying to do to us?" was Jazz point guard Deron Williams' reaction.
Players, coaches, executives and fans of the Spurs, Mavs, Hornets, Suns, Nuggets, Blazers, Warriors and Rockets are asking the same thing.
The Lakers added a quality 7-footer, still only 27, who is the all-time leader in Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies history in points and rebounds. All they gave away, for the time being, was a couple of players who, really, weren't contributing much in L.A.
Kwame Brown, a bust of a former No. 1 overall pick, was coveted by the Grizzlies simply because he has an expiring contract and rookie point guard Javaris Crittenton was a third-stringer for the Lakers. Those are the only two current Lakers that had to be sent packing to Elvis' hometown. L.A. also had to give up the draft rights to Gasol's less-talented brother, Marc, and first-round draft picks this year and again in 2010.
But, really, that's nothing in the big picture.
Marc Gasol may just decide to stay and continue to play in his native Spain rather than ever report to Memphis. And those two draft picks, especially now that the Lakers have Pau Gasol, will be in the high 20s which, frankly, is not a place where impact players are selected. Plus, the Lakers get the Grizzlies' No. 2 draft pick in 2010, which will no doubt be only a handful of selections after the first-round pick Memphis will get from L.A. in that very draft.
Gasol, who averages just under 20 points and 10 boards per game, will fill in at center until up-and-coming star Andrew Bynum returns from a knee injury next month. Then Gasol will move to power forward where he is equally capable.
Assuming there is no additional trade in the next couple of weeks there are rumors the Lakers are still in the running for New Jersey's All-Star point guard Jason Kidd Los Angeles will have an impressive starting lineup of Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant as the guards, Gasol and Lamar Odom at forwards and Bynum at center. They'll still be deep, too, with Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic and Ronny Turiaf coming off the bench.
Frankly, that makes the Lakers the best team in the West, at least on paper.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are clearly the class of the East.
The Lakers and Celtics are the two most successful teams in the history of the NBA. Boston has 16 league titles, two more than L.A.
One of those two franchises will have another, too.Magic and Bird won't be playing, but expect the 2008 finals to have a distinct 1980s feel to it.
E-mail: [email protected]