The NBA landscape has changed significantly since last we mused on the possible destinations for Gasol back in November. Teams have surprised us with stunning success in the past three months, while a few have undergone huge remodeling movements. The assets that were there in November have been shifted around, with some needs fulfilled, some newly created and some simply reassigned. Either way, in that time frame, we at SS&R have debated what's a reasonable return for Pau and if indeed it's actually time to trade him, or if indeed keeping him is the best result we could hope for.
In November, I wrote my seventeenth installment in the seemingly interminable "Where could Pau Gasol get traded" series. Here's what's changed since then:
- I wrote that the Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic weren't a match because those teams would be too busy rebuilding to want a high-priced veteran like Gasol. Here we are at the deadline and both the Suns and Bobcats are hanging at the bottom of their respective playoff brackets.
- The Raptors and Sacramento Kings were on the list of potential trade destinations, but with the import of Rudy Gay, the Kings have ruled themselves out of the mix.
- Milwaukee Bucks were an interesting landing spot for Pau, but with single-digit wins, I doubt they'd send any assets considering that even in the East, it's damn near impossible for them to make the postseason.
- The Chicago Bulls made it a point to dump salary with the trade of Luol Deng. So then, why would they bring on Pau for more money than their longtime small forward?
- The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up a huge asset in the Andrew Bynum-Deng deal. Looking at their roster--and more importantly place in the standings--I don't see them putting together another trade that would cost them even more assets on what looks like a lost season.
So who's left?
Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets: All these teams definitely have a need for Pau, but seeing as none of them are closer than six games to the 8-seed in the Western Conference, I doubt that they'd really consider dealing anything of value for Gasol. In this age of NBA GMs, sending out assets for Gasol and then missing the playoffs is a fireable offense.
Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks, Clippers, Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors: Like the last batch of squads, these four rosters would greatly improve from having a polished offensive threat like Gasol. However, looking at their payroll make-ups, a one-for-one trade wouldn't work for various reasons.
Golden State: The Dubs couldn't make this deal work without including David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala or Stephen Curry. Seeing as that's the core of their current push towards contending, I don't quite see it.
New York: The Lakers would have to take back the salary of Amar'e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani. Aside from getting me to quit writing, it'd be a huge mistake for LA.
Brooklyn: The Nets would have to ship out Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Joe Johnson, which would signify a complete 180 degree turn from the direction they've sacrificed so much to move towards. More importantly, like the Knicks and Warriors, the Nets have no first round picks to entice the Lakers with.
Portland: To grab Pau, the Blazers would need to part with MVP candidate LaMarcus Aldridge or Nic Batum, which isn't happening.
Clips: They definitely have the need, as Ryan Hollins, BJ Mullens and Antawn Jamison serve as their back-up big men. However, they'd have to trade some combination of Jared Dudley, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Jamison, Willie Green, Reggie Bullock, Darren Collison and perhaps more. Sending away half a roster for one guy just doesn't make sense. More to the point, I don't see the Lakers helping out the Clippers. I know some people don't believe that basketball rivalries don't matter anymore, which may be true. But sending Gasol across the hallway and helping the Clips turn into a legitimate contender is a bad business decision for the Lakers. Think about that.
To cover the rest of the playoff teams...
The Indiana Pacers just acquired Andrew Bynum who, along with Luis Scola, puts another big body in an already crowded front court rotation. The Miami Heat do not have the salaries and seem to be, for whatever reason, content with Greg Oden as their bench big. Houston has seen how poorly Gasol and Dwight Howard can look playing together--giving it another go in H-Town would be unwise, to say the least. The Hawks do not have the payroll assets to grab Pau. The Wizards already made their big man trade with the acquisition of Marcin Gortat right before training camp. Oklahoma City has the need for another big, but they'd have to give up a combination of Kendrick Perkins and a bevy of other role players to make this trade work money-wise.
So where does that leave us? With five teams...
The soon-to-be Hornets are a surprise entrant on this list, as new coach and former Lakers assistant Steve Clifford has gotten what's been one of the NBA's worst teams to buy into his defense-first philosophy. They're currently the 8-seed in a weak Eastern Conference and barely fending off both Detroit and New York for that last spot. A weapon like Gasol to team with Al Jefferson could be what they need to make their second ever playoff appearance.
Ben Gordon and old friends Josh McRoberts and Jannero Pargo could save the Lakers about $3 million on the cap and be enough to grab Pau. But seeing as this wouldn't take the Lakers under the cap, they'd no doubt ask a first round pick (Detroit's or Portland's) as a sweetner.
The reigning Western Conference champions are strangely unfamiliar as a blockbuster trade destination spot, as they seldom participate in deadline deals. However, after last season's heartbreaking Finals loss and a (for real reals this time!) realization that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are on borrowed time, the franchise could be thinking of how to fortify themselves for another long spring playoff run. The Spurs could use Gasol not only on the court, but to perhaps ignite the motors of a potentially weary team.
Unfortunately for them, to make this work they'd have to part with either Splitter or Ginobili, and then fill in pieces like Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw and Jeff Ayres, as well as a first round draft pick. Whether or not the Spurs will even indulge in the idea of trading for Gasol will speak volumes on just how desperate they are to get Duncan, Parker and Popovich another title. I'm just not sure how motivated they'll be to completely change the chemistry of a team that just came off of a Finals run.
The Raps already participated in one gigantic trade this season, but they know, like everyone else in the league, that no matter what they do during the regular season, they'll run into either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers in the second round. Will Pau be the piece that allows them to topple last year's Eastern Conference Finals teams? With the squad they have now, he may be the perfect fit offensively.
For Toronto to grab him, they have plenty of assets. Salary wise, it'd start with John Salmons and Amir Johnson (both with team options for next season), either Tyler Hansbrough or Patrick Patterson and a first round pick. The Lakers would also happily take a young player like Terrence Ross, though I'm not sure how keen Toronto would be on doing so. Either way, this could be a very enticing deal for the Raptors, especially seeing how vulnerable Miami is inside and how much help they'd need in overcoming a gigantic Indy front line.
For the most part, we know what the trade with the Suns would be--because it almost happened. It all revolves around Emeka Okafor's expiring $14.5 million dollar deal, which would be all Phoenix would have to deal as they are enough under the salary cap to absorb all of Pau's contract.
The hitch in this deal was the Suns's unwillingness to surrender any of their four first round picks this year. Perhaps with the playoffs more clearly in sight, they'd finally be ready to part with just one in order to acquire the Spaniard.
Not much has changed since November in regards to Dallas--they're still a playoff team on the bottom half of the Western Conference postseason bracket that's in need of another great player to move towards the upper crust. Gasol would no doubt be a big help to Dirk Nowitzki, who is without a lot of scoring help down low.
The deal would have to be structured around Shawn Marion and his expiring $9 million dollar deal, and then adding in a combination of Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert and Wayne Ellington. Again, seeing as the Lakers wouldn't be under the cap, they'd most likely insist that a young guy like Ricky Ledo or Shane Larkin be included, or a first round selection.
I'm thrilled to write this for (hopefully) the last time: the odds of a Gasol deal going through are not terribly strong. His age, the size of his contract, the Lakers's unwillingness to take on salary past this year, his very poor defensive performances this season and now, his injury status makes any trade very difficult to envision. There would need to be a team that's strong enough defensively to make up for Pau's shortcomings on that end of the floor, as well as wanting to make the playoffs bad enough to offset potentially watching Gasol leave for nothing at the end of the year. Moreoever, it's a question of assets: the Lakers clearly aren't giving up their big man for just salary cap relief, especially if the deal does not put them out of the luxury tax. If that wasn't the case, he'd already be in Phoenix.
Gasol's injury really complicates matters as well--if his updated diagnosis this week isn't positive, the odds of him being traded on Thursday are almost completely shot.
But if we're speculating that Gasol's injury isn't severe, it looks like Charlotte, Phoenix and Toronto look like the most likely destinations. San Antonio looks like a decent fit, but their historical reluctance to make splashy moves at the trade deadline may play a big part in my skepticism. Dallas is a wild card, as I'm not sure if Gasol makes them one of the league's best--but I also don't know if they believe that. Again, these are all just two-team trade scenarios, which makes the deals much more complicated to consummate. With three or four teams, the possibilities really open up, but as I've written before, those type of deals are generally very hard to accomplish in-season. Even if the Lakers decide to keep him (or the offers just aren't there), the fact that a gigantic $19 million dollar salary is coming off of the books is a fantastic return for doing nothing at all.
Whatever happens, this should put an end to the nearly three year trade rumor odyssey that this noble professional truly didn't deserve. Regardless of what city he's in on Friday morning, there's no doubt that Pau Gasol will be the most relieved person involved in this whole affair.
Almost as relieved as the guys who have to write about it.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino