In a bold, swift move, the Lakers improved their franchise and impressed their franchise player, a two-step process that pushed them closer toward the front of the Western Conference line on a pivotal, perhaps memorable, Friday.
Seven-foot forward-center Pau Gasol was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, first-round draft picks in 2008 and 2010 and other considerations, a move that gave the Lakers a post presence with All-Star credentials in his recent past.
It also gave their current All-Star increased peace of mind, allowing the tumult of last summer to drift a bit more into the past, perhaps coming to rest in a place not to be disturbed again.
"It shows a great deal of commitment from the organization," Kobe Bryant said before scoring 46 points in the Lakers' 121-101 victory over the Toronto Raptors. "I have to take my hat off to Dr. [Jerry] Buss and [General Manager] Mitch [Kupchak] for going forward with this. Now it's up to us to go out there and work hard."
Bryant was then asked if the deal would secure a long-term commitment from him, even though he could terminate his contract after next season.
"Ah, it doesn't hurt," he said.
It was the trade that ricocheted through the West, if not the league, enthralling the Lakers to no end and putting other teams on notice.
"Everything's looking pretty good in Lakerland," an NBA scout said Friday, shaking his head in admiration or surprise, or both.
In addition to Brown, who never lived up to the promise of being the top pick in the 2001 draft, and Crittenton, a rookie who was intriguing in spurts, the Lakers gave up the rights to Marc Gasol, who was one of their second-round picks last year and who is Pau's younger brother.
In an illustration of creative thinking by Kupchak, the Lakers signed retired free agent Aaron McKie and sent him to the Grizzlies to make the exchanged salaries equitable under NBA trade rules.
McKie, who was serving as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, resigned that post on Friday and signed for $750,000.
Beyond Gasol, the Lakers received the Grizzlies' second-round pick in 2010.
"We're pleased," Kupchak said. "It has to translate into W's. We're concerned we gave up future talent, but we want to win today."
Gasol, 27, gives the Lakers a post presence with a decent touch from 15 feet. In the short term, he will fill in for Andrew Bynum at center and then will slide to power forward on Bynum's return around mid-March. Lamar Odom will eventually move to small forward.
Gasol made the All-Star team in 2006 and was averaging 18.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 blocked shots this season. Last season, he averaged 20.8 points, 9.8 rebounds 3.4 assists and 2.1 blocked shots, sitting out the first 22 games while recovering from a broken bone in his left foot, an injury he sustained during the FIBA World Championships.
Gasol will be in Los Angeles today for a physical and might join the Lakers for their game Sunday at Washington, although a team official said there is less than a 50% chance of it happening because Brown and Crittenton also must get to Memphis and pass physicals before the deal becomes official.
Gasol had been disappointed with the Grizzlies (13-33), who missed the playoffs last season and had not won a playoff game since he was drafted in 2001.
Gasol requested a trade in January 2007, eventually backed off when last season ended, but appeared hesitant last May after the Grizzlies failed to win the draft lottery.
"Now other things are going to have to happen to be a better team," he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal at the time. "I don't know how much this affects my situation. We'll see. Let's see how the franchise reacts."
The Grizzlies were looking to shed salary and will build around second-year forward Rudy Gay.
Gasol has three more years and $49.4 million left on his contract, not including the $13.7 million he makes this season. He will make $15.1 million next season, $16.5 million in 2009-10 and $17.8 million in 2010-11.
Brown, on the other hand, has an expiring contract that pays him $9.1 million this season.
"We're a 13-win team, so when you're in that situation, you've got to make moves," Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace told the Associated Press. "Brown was the largest expiring contact we could find in the league where we also got back an attractive young player like Crittenton and multiple first-round picks."
The Grizzlies were initially believed to be interested in acquiring Odom, but his $14.1-million salary next season was viewed as an extra year of added financial ballast by Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, who opted instead to pursue Brown, a source said.
Acquiring Gasol is a heavy financial investment for the Lakers, who will pay millions in luxury taxes for several seasons after not paying any last season and being only about $1.5 million over the tax threshold this season before Friday.
The Lakers will get scoring, rebounding and, they hope, some defense from Gasol, who has been more of an offense-minded player.
"We need a little scoring inside without Andrew Bynum," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It gives us a post-up threat right now, and he's a good passer. We like that."
Jackson also brought up Gasol's need to play at both ends of the court.
"It depends how well he's going to play defense, how well we fit together as a team," Jackson said.
In the end, there was Bryant's voice.
Eight months ago, he said he would rather play on Pluto than for the Lakers. His mind-set began to change with the evolution of Bynum this season, and then came the Gasol trade.
"It's a great step," he said. "It's a matter of us just jelling now and putting it together . We've got a great bench. We have a lot of length, a lot of versatility. Now it's time to walk the walk."
Correspondent Paul Attfield contributed to this report.
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