by Adam Fleischer

When breaking down the decade’s best trade, I almost shied away from this one. Was it even a trade? I mean, when it happened, the preferred moniker was “steal.” It seemed that one franchise had made a mockery of the other.

But that’ll tend to happen when you get an all-star and potential All-NBA performer without giving up anything that even resembles an important piece for your franchise moving forward. And that’s what happened on February 1, 2008.

When the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol weeks before the trade deadline, it was a move that showed they were serious about winning going forward. The previous season had ended in first round playoff defeat on the heels of the second worst Lakers regular season finish since Kobe Bryant was drafted in 1996. The Kwame Brown experiment had failed. If Los Angeles was going to win another championship with this core (read: Kobe), they would need to pair him with a talented big man, it seemed. So Mitch Kupchak went out and did just that.

The exchange looked pretty lopsided on paper: The Lakers picked up Gasol and a 2010 second rounder from Memphis for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol, and first round picks in 2008 and 2010. Pau was already established as one of the League’s better big men and at just 27 years old was a rare asset. Brown was a bust, Crittenton was young and unproven, McKie was simply a cap piece and didn’t play for either team all season, Marc Gasol was an unknown, and the draft picks were sure to be late first rounders.

Approaching two years since the deal, we now have a bit more perspective on the trade than the initial knee jerk reactions. Still, not all that much about the assessment has changed.

From the get go, Pau and Kobe played extremely well with one another, something that has continued to this day. The Lakers went 22-5 with their new big man in the starting line up to end 2008. They advanced all the way to the Finals that year before falling to the Celtics. Los Angeles has not yet lost three games in a row since acquiring Gasol and they’ve been one of the two or three favorites for the title in each of the last three years, with one already under their belt and a determined focus on a second this June. And Gasol and the Lakers just agreed in principle to a contract extension that will keep him in purple and gold through the 2013-14 season, hoping the recent success continues into the next decade.

On the other side of things, the 2008 first round pick turned into Darrell Arthur, while Brown, Crittenton and McKie turned into a Piston, Wizard, and coach, respectively. The one bright spot has been Pau’s brother, Marc. This year, he has averaged a shade more than 14 points and just under ten rebounds per game. All signs point to his game continuing to evolve and him establishing himself as a serviceable big, at worst, for years to come.

Depending on the trajectory of Marc Gasol’s career and the damage that the Lakers do in the next three to five years, we may look back on this trade differently. For now, though, there was not one better this decade.

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