The trade deadline has come and gone, with virtually no movement at all after our annual build-up to a climax as predictable as a Roland Emmerich movie yet not nearly apocalyptic. Essentially, the biggest trade was Bogut & Stephen Jackson going to the Warriors for Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown and a guy they drafted sixth overall that I’m not going to bother looking up. Some other teams cleared their rosters as well, such as the Blazers sending Gerald Wallace and others out of town being the second blip on the NBA’s radar.
This was all pretty uneventful, and no one expects any of these moves to have a lasting effect beyond maybe moving a team up or down one or two playoff spots. But hope for a title comes in all shapes and sizes. And for the Los Angeles Lakers, hope has arrived in the form of a mid-sized point guard most of their “fans” have never heard of before. Ramon Sessions, the league’s most underrated point guard this side of Andre Miller (whom Sessions may surpass if things in LA goes as we expect them too), has signed with the leagues second most storied franchise.
This might all sound a bit hyperbolic, but Sessions gives the Lakers an actual presence at the point guard position (widely considered to be the league’s most important, though I have my qualms with that declaration), who can score, distribute, and penetrate while doing both. For a Phil Jackson offense this isn’t imperative which is why they’ve been able to mask the shortcomings of an aging Derrick Fisher for a few years now. For your standard NBA offense that 90% of the league seems to run, unless you have LeBron James & Dwayne Wade it most certainly is (and even then it can haunt you).
As I was watching the Lakers-Mavericks game last night, about sometime in the second quarter when the Lakers were responding to every threat by the Mavs and Sessions seemed to be intricately involved in every response, it dawned on me that this catapults the Lakers to amidst the upper-echelon of the West. And not necessarily record-wise (yet) but in spirit and reputation, the Lakers just improved ten-fold. His presence to most seems menial, in fact his name is one that people would say disparagingly if he was part of the Heat’s supporting cast and they were struggling: “How do you expect Wade & LeBron to win a title when they have guys like Ramon Sessions as their starting point guard?”
But Heat apologists say that about everyone outside of the core-three (and sometimes even Bosh isn’t good enough for Wade and LeBron), and sometimes it’s accurate. When you say it about someone like Sessions, whose a valuable role player whose never had an opportunity like the one he has now, it’s misguided. You didn’t need to be a former player or analyst to see how Sessions skill-set freed up virtually everyone else on the team last night, from Kobe to Steve Blake to Pau Gasol, all you needed were eyeballs and a loose understanding of how a basketball team functions.
The only downside to Sessions is he’s a little under-sized and is a better help defender than he is on-the-ball. But since the NBA banished the hand-checking rule, the best on-the-ball defender at point guard (for my money, Russell Westbrook) is only marginally better than the worst (Steve Nash, probably). Whatever his deficiencies, he’s a incalculable improvement from Derrick Fisher, who used to be at the same plateau that Sessions is more than capable of and currently aspiring to match (if not exceed): better than serviceable point guard for a title caliber team that always comes through when his team most needs him.
This isn’t to say the Cavs miss-stepped in trading Sessions. They have one of the five best under-25 point guards currently on their roster (and he’s 19) and someone I couldn’t have been more happy to be utterly-wrong about. But just look at Sessions statistical productivity over the years. Every year it has increased or decreased has been the direct result of competition for his position. When a team brings in someone like an Irving or Brandon Jennings, his numbers take a hit and he’s eventually traded, because he’s too expensive to be a standard back-up but for as underrated as he is, he isn’t an all-NBA talent.
The Lakers, however, don’t need all-world at point guard. What they need is someone who can distribute effectively with limited turnovers, score on occasion and come through with an occasional efficient clutch performance. What they had in Fisher was an offensive and defensive liability, and in his late years was probably the worst starting point guard in the league. Sorry, I hate saying it as Fish was the only part of the Lakers dynasty I ever really liked, but going from him to Sessions is the aforementioned Roland Emmerich to Michael Haneke (Google him).
Some might misinterpret this as me saying that Sessions has more value to the Lakers than Kobe, Bynum, Gasol, etc. Because hey, I think the Lakers are a contender now that they have Sessions and they weren’t without him when they had Kobe, after all, so what else could I be saying? This is a false equivalency. This current Lakers incarnation and all Lakers incarnations from now until the end of time, would/will go a lot further in the post-season with Kobe and without Sessions than they would vice versa. What I am saying is that by adding a genuine starting point guard to a rotation that consists of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts & Troy Murphy, the Lakers are now the favorite to win what most consider a wide open western conference.