Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 6/28/12
EL SEGUNDO, Calif All day Thursday, rumors were swirling concerning the Lakers and possible trades before the 2012 NBA Draft began at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Four-time All Star Pau Gasol provided the most grist for the mill. Reports had him heading to Atlanta for Josh Smith: to Houston for one or all three of their first round picks; maybe even back to his original teamMemphisin exchange for power forward Zach Randolph. At around 9 p.m. Pacific time, the draft ended with the Lakers drafting center Robert Sacre of Gonzaga with the 60th pick, then trading cash considerations to Dallas for the No. 55 pick, Darius Earvin Johnson-Odom (really) from Marquette, then sending Gasolback to limbo. "We worked hard at trying to get something done in the past couple weeks," said Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak, refusing to reveal if Gasol was the centerpiece of any possible deal. "We were active, but getting into the first round isn't the easiest thing to do without pledging substantial assets. "For the last week or two we covered and canvassed the league, and got a feel of the opportunities available to us to move into the first round, or improve the team via trade. This is really just the beginning phase of when teams look to improve." Kupchak then went on to repeat what has become the Laker mantra: "We have a limited number of options available to us as we try to improve our team." Reading between the lines, if the Lakers aren't able to convince a top-flight player to sign for far below his market valuethe 3 million mini-mid level exceptionthe only chance for the Lakers to get better is through trades. This leaves Gasol as the main bargaining chip. The seven-foot Spaniard, who will lead his country into the London Olympics in four weeks, has been the target of relentless trade speculation since he was actually traded to Houston last December. That dealwhich also involved Lamar Odom going to New Orleans and Chris Paul coming to the Lakerswas vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern, who was essentially running the Hornets until a new ownership group was found. Until the March 15 trading deadline, Gasol had to endure the constant speculation of his being moved to a new team at any moment, and while it was something he handled graciously, he didn't like it one bit. The Lakers didn't help the situation by allowing the rumors to continue without making a definitive statement regarding Pau's future with the club. Following Thursday night's draft, Kupchak was given the platform to say Gasol was staying or going, but once again declined the opportunity ease Gasol's mind. "It's a different environment today," Kupchak said. "If another team calls me and asks about a player, I give them an answer, and in this day and agewith all the media opportunities - the story might be out within sometimes hours. The fact that two teams discussed a player is reported, and it never used to be that way. "Our players understand that, and that's part of (what goes along with) getting paid as a professional gets paid; something they have to endure." So, while Gasol might spend the rest of the summer wondering which uniform he'll be wearing after the London Games, Kupchak's immediate duties will have him getting ready for 9:01 p.m. (PT) on June 30, when the free-agent negotiation period begins. He'll be picking up the phone to call Ramon Sessions and try to persuade the free agent point guard to come back to the Lakers after opting out of his contract earlier this month. He'll also be calling Andrew Bynum to try and work out terms of a new multi-year contract, and the other Lakers free agents and restricted free agents will also get their callsif the Lakers want them back. Kupchak says he'll also "be trying to hit a home run" in acquiring an impact player through trade avenues. "There are always fans interested and watching, and we'll be trying to do something good." Whether or not the No. 55 and 60 picks in the draft will be a couple of those good things is absolutely a long shot at best. Sacre is a defense-first center who promises to come in and "know my role and shut my mouth. I want to be like (former Laker) Ronny Turiaf, be an energy guy off the bench and help Kobe (Bryant) get another ring." Johnson-Odom, whose middle name was given to him in honor of Laker great Earvin "Magic" Johnson, said he was thrilled when he found out the Mavericks had sold him to his favorite team. "I was quite happy," said the combo guard from Marquette. "To be able to play with a great team, teams that plays well together, and while it's going to be a learning process, I think I have an opportunity to be a (contributing) player with this organization. I just want to try to make an impact on the team, and I think the Lakers are going to allow me to do that this year. "When I was at Marquette, I just wanted to be (with) a winner, and that's why (I feel) I'll fit in with.the Lakers." Even though he might not be quite sure who his teammates will be when training camp begins in October.
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