At first there were whispers. And then, after a fashion, the whispers turned to chatter. The chatter soon turned into a dull roar and now we're into a full-on, Kevin Garnett primal scream: trade Pau Gasol.
The 2011 2nd Team All-NBAer hasn't helped matters much: since Mike D'Antoni took over, Pau is averaging 10 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, to go along with .388 shooting and a woeful 64% from the charity stripe. Those stats are fine if you're Jason Kidd or Kurt Thomas--not so much when you're the 9th highest-paid player in the league. Gasol's numbers have followed a frightening trend from the end of the 2010 playoffs, in which the hardened, vengeance-driven warrior was one of the driving forces behind an epic Game 7 victory over the Celtics in the Finals (just...sit on that one for a minute Lakers fans. All be well).
However, as we've covered extensively on this blog, and even further than that in just about any comments section, the most glaring reason behind Pau trade whispers has been his shocking lack of energy on both ends of the floor. Whether it's been the coaching changes, lack of managerial or fan support, system demands or perhaps just plain old injury, Gasol has lacked much of the aggression and effort Los Angeles fell in love with in 2008. He's slow to rotate on pick and roll defense, as well as perimeter closeouts, and has been shockingly sedentary finishing around the rim offensively. More importantly, the Lakers aren't winning. With the team sitting at 8-9, Pau's play hasn't been the main thrust behind an under-.500 record, but when the team is losing, everything is magnified and there's going to be a scapegoat. Pau, for the moment, seems to be that guy.
The obvious solution here? The once unthinkable: trade Pau Gasol.The question is where? And for whom?
The Lakers have several obvious holes, though as of late Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks have helped fill some of them. For the moment, the Lakers would need a replacement for Gasol, hopefully a power forward with some defensive athleticism that is a (key word here!) willing mid-range shooter. Additionally, GM Mitch Kupchak would be hunting for a back-up point guard who can keep the second unit running, as well as shoot from the outside, especially seeing yesterday's news that Steve Blake will go under the knife for a torn abdominal muscle. Finally, the Lakers would be looking to shed salary in the deal, with Blake, F Earl Clark and PG Chris Duhon the most obvious candidates.
However, there're a few notable road blocks to dealing Pau:
- He is due $19 million in 2012-2013, which would be prorated depending on when he would be acquired, and a little under $19.3 in 2013-2014, the last season of his deal. The Spaniard's enormous salary makes it extremely difficult to deal him at any point, no matter the time of year.
- Deals in the midst of a season are notoriously much more complicated than during the off-season. However, major superstars--Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony come to mind--have been traded close to the February trade deadline.
- Three-team deals, which may be required to deal Gasol, are even more difficult. In the last two years, only two major three-team trades have gone down, including the three-teamer that brought Carmelo to New York from Denver (though Minnesota's involvement was only a trade sweetener, rather than an integral part) and the Nené deal that sent the Brazilian center to Washington and also involved the Clippers.
- The Lakers have dealt with a great deal of turnover already in just over a month. Another major franchise-changing move? The Lakers never seem scared, but this much tumult could be too much even for the Buss family.
That all being said, what are the options here? Lakers fans have called for a Gasol trade for over a year and a half now, but I'd argue that more than ever, his performance and MDA's system demands warrant such a sentiment. There are dozens of rules and dozens more subsets of those rules in regards to trading during a NBA season, but here are the most important ones for the purpose of this exercise:
- Total contract value traded both ways has to be within $3 million dollars of each other. For example, in order for Pau to be dealt, the contracts coming to the Lakers would have to equal at least $16 million in 2012-2013 salary and at most $22 million.
- Players signed this past summer cannot be signed until December 15th, or three months from the date they were signed, whichever comes later. For example, new Laker Jodie Meeks (hypothetically) couldn't be dealt for another week and a half. Thus, most teams aren't talking trades for at least another 11 days.
- Draft picks can be traded, but not in consecutive years.
- NBA players, unlike MLB players, very, very rarely have no-trade clauses. Because of complex rules of the CBA (I won't bore you with the reasoning), only four players have no trade clauses: Boston's Kevin Garnett, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, San Antonio's Tim Duncan and our own Kobe Bean Bryant.
Furthermore, any number of trades are possible; after all, Mitch Kupchak could trade Pau for LeBron James straight up today. But that's a pipe dream even Twitter rumors would shudder at. I'm looking at trades that are possible based on the current climate of the NBA.
(Keep in mind that these are purely hypothetical. These rumors have no actual evidence behind them besides my own theorizing. Salaries courtesy of hoopshype.com)
to the New York Knicks, for F/C Amar'e Stoudemire ($19.9 million)
Why the Lakers...wouldn't do this: This hypothetical is known as the "My Mismatched Tetris Piece for your More Broken, Albeit Still Mismatched Tetris Piece". In perhaps the most maddening of all hypothetical trade scenarios, embattled and injured Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire would head to LA. Though this doesn't work on many levels, mostly, let's look at the fiscal side. Amar'e is owed $64 million over three years, nearly $26 more than what's owed to Pau for an extra year .The Lakers aren't about to handicap their proposed banner 2014 free agent year, in which they'd have (if Dwight Howard re-signs with the club) nearly $30 million in cap room to reload after Kobe perhaps retires and Pau comes off the books. Just on a dollars and cents level, this deal isn't working.
More importantly, Stoudemire isn't nearly the player Pau is, and has been laid up with two knee surgeries and back problems in the past 12 months:
to the Boston Celtics with Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark (total: $20.6 million), for F Jeff Green, G Jason Terry, F Brandon Bass (total: $19.6 million)
Why the Lakers...wouldn't do this: Besides the rising tidal wave of vomit overtaking the San Fernando Valley from seeing Pau in Celtic Green and helping solidify the 2013 C's into a title contender? Jeff Green, he of a 9/3 and a staggering 11 PER, is an owner of one of the worst contracts, if not the worst, in the NBA. He's owed just around $36 million dollars to do...something, but what exactly, I'm not yet sure. I can't say for sure what void he'd fill for the Lakers, because after six seasons, I'm still not sure what he does basketball-wise.
The prize for LA here would be the sweet shooting mid-range jumper of Brandon Bass, and the instant, bench-ready offense from JET. In addition, Terry can handle back-up point guard duties if needed, though he's much better as an off-ball offensive player.
This deal benefits both teams, as the Celtics need a more reliable player to man the low post to pair with Garnett's high post shooting. However, Green's awful deal really clinches the Lakers saying no. If the Celtics make a move in-season, it'd be to rid themselves of an already horrible looking contract they just signed this past summer, as well as needing that dollar figure to make the trade work.
The bonus deal-breaker here is that as much as basketball teams don't care about rivalries, these two teams do. I can't see Dr. Buss, as well as Wyc Grousbeck and GM Danny Ainge completing a deal that, while flawed, would greatly benefit both teams.
to the Toronto Raptors for F/C Andrea Bargnani, G Jose Calderon (total: $20.56 million)
Why the Lakers...wouldn't do this deal: Well, the team certainly wouldn't get better defensively. And that's an understatement. At this point, Calderon's Spanish lineage, hailing from the proud Calderon Matador family, is well earned (I completely made that up) in terms of his defensive acumen, and I'd much rather have a pregnant and retired Lisa Leslie safeguarding the rim than throwing Andrea Bargnani over there.
In all seriousness, these are two of the worst defensive players in the league. You think you're frustrated with Pau guarding the pick and roll now? Andrea Bargnani makes him look like the son of Dennis Rodman and Hope Solo. Moreover, I can't see the Raptors taking on any additional salary from the Lakers, seeing as the team would be saving a little less than $10 million next year with Calderon's expiring deal.
However, the Lakers would improve by leaps and bounds offensively, especially with Bargnani's offensive barrage and Calderon's ability to space the floor and handle the point guard duties off the bench. Toronto could be looking for a mentor for rookie Jonas Valanciunas, and there's no doubt an All-Star like Pau, with a greater offensive role, would flourish next to PG Kyle Lowry.
Still, I can't see Mitch pulling the trigger on this one; it just doesn't make the team better overall.
to the Utah Jazz for F Marvin Williams, PF Paul Millsap and G Raja Bell (total: $19 million)
Why the Lakers...WOULD do this: As difficult as it would be to deal Pau in the conference, this is the right type of deal for the Lakers. Millsap fills the needs of a stretch four, and Marvin Williams can play a sufficient small forward both defensively and offensively. On a side note, there still are bigger fish to fry than Raja Bell--he's pretty washed up at this point. There's no doubt that Millsap and Williams are a better fit on paper than Gasol is with MDA's system. Maybe just as important is the potential cap savings the Lakers will get next year; even if they were to re-sign Millsap (a free agent) for a similar salary, the team is saving more than $3 million.
On the Jazz side, Pau makes them better for this year and the next, but they're a young team that's trying to build around Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Gasol might stunt the growth of these two potential stars, even if he helps Utah to a 6 or 7 playoff seed the next two years. Moreover, if Utah decides to keep on a veteran with their youngsters, they're going to re-sign 27-year-old 2013 free agent Al Jefferson, not trade for the 32-year-old Spaniard.
Though unlikely, if any of these deals could get done, it'd be this one.
to the Chicago Bulls with G Steve Blake (total: $24 million) for PF Carlos Boozer, SG Richard Hamilton, SG Marco Bellinelli and PG Nate Robinson (total: $23.2 million)
Why the Lakers...wouldn't do this: Fast and simple, Boozer's massive contract. He's owed $47 million over three years, and producing less and less each season. Even the carrot of Nate Robinson's instant offense and point guard play off the bench, Hamilton's mid-range game, as well as Bellinelli's floor spacing couldn't get the Lakers to take on Boozer's deal. There isn't a sound in any language that could convey Chicago GM Gar Forman's acceptance quick enough, but without including F Taj Gibson, who is pretty much untouchable at this point, there's not enough here for the Lakers to say yes. Moreover, Boozer is an amnesty candidate after this year, and the league knows it. I doubt anyone would deal for him in the interim.
to the Atlanta Hawks, for F Josh Smith, G/F Kyle Korver
Why the Lakers...WOULD do this: A 26 year old with unlimited defensive potential, game-changing athleticism AND he's good friends with Dwight Howard? Where does Jim Buss give his polo shirt?
Even though Smith isn't the stretch 4 they need (very important here: Smith cannot shoot. In fact, he's a horrid outside shooter. Please see this chart), he's so devastating defensively, as well as on the break, and not to mention 26 years old. The Lakers would be foolish not to deal a 32 year old with tendinitis for a still immature, but extremely talented young player. And that's just Smith alone; Kyle Korver is another prize here, a truly gifted three-point assassin who's a dream D'Antoni player. This wouldn't just be a great deal for the Lakers--it'd be a coup.
But on Atlanta's side, I don't see them taking the bait. Pau is still a great player, but he's 32 and on a deal that finishes up at the end of next season. Teaming him with Al Horford and Jeff Teague for only one year isn't exactly what the Hawks would have in mind in exchange for Smith. The team is still on the young side (though this core with Joe Johnson had been eliminated from the second round for half a decade now) and GM Danny Ferry has repeated that Josh Smith is a part of their future. I'd agree. This summer, the Hawks have the flexibility to go after PG Chris Paul, as well as Dwight Howard, and they're not about to capsize that for the sake of one and a half years of Pau Gasol.
For various reasons, none of these teams work out. Houston and GM Daryl Morey has coveted Gasol for years, but lack any contract over $5 million for this season to consummate this deal. The Rockets would have to make a more complicated three-teamer, and with their front office maestro, perhaps it could get done. In that sense, the Rockets are the best fit here, but who they'll complete a deal with is too hard to predict.
Charlotte and Detroit both have the big contracts and young players, but they're both rebuilding teams that don't need an expensive veteran who will no doubt be unhappy playing on a lottery team. I can't see either team dealing for Gasol.
Dallas is an interesting choice here, but Cuban has been aiming to score big in free agency either last summer (where he struck out) and now this upcoming summer with Dwight and Chris Paul available. Gasol would be a nice consolation prize, but I don't think that the Mavericks are going to give up on their long-held goal for the sake of Gasol. If anything, they'd trade for him after the 2013 season.
As you can see, none of these trades is a slam dunk deal for the Lakers. Every single one brings caveats on at least one side of the deal, and in many cases on both sides. Gasol is still a highly skilled player, but his age, as well as the price and odd brevity of his contract make him difficult to deal. It would take three or four teams to make the Lakers better off for the short and long term. In other words, the perfect trade does not exist between two teams. Shipping Gasol out of Los Angeles would require a pact far more complicated than I could possibly conjure up, but more importantly, could possibly be put together by even the wizardry of Kupchak and Buss.
The truth, as far as I can see from a personnel standpoint, is that the Lakers don't have a choice here: Mike D'Antoni has to make this work. Pau Gasol has to make this work. Both men should realize the inherent difficulties of trading a star in-season, not to mention one with such an expensive price tag. They need to understand that if Gasol were to be traded, it should have happened four months ago, and as some diehard Lakers fans persist, actually happened just one year ago. D'Antoni's biggest challenge in taking the job here in LA wasn't to harness a flaccid bench--he did that in just five games--it's getting one of the most versatile and talented players in the world to fit into his system. Perhaps Pau is simply hurt and needs a few games off rather than playing through pain this early in the season. However, D'Antoni needs to do more to improve Pau's situation. Whether it's to play him off the bench, adjust his floor positioning, find more shots for him on side pick and rolls, MDA must find a way to help Gasol, who often has the words "versatile" and "skilled" attached to his name, fit. Not just because it'd be awful to deport a talented player for quarters on the dollar, but because such a trade is probably not going to happen. For better or worse, this is more than likely the 2012-2013 Lakers squad.
Feel free to leave your comments below, along with hypothetical trades. I've looked at this from the viewpoint of all 29 other teams: there is almost no scenario where the Lakers come out on top or another team would agree in a two-team trade. That's not to say it won't happen, but at this point, I see it as fairly unlikely.
This isn't a case of whether the Lakers should move Pau Gasol or not. It's one move: make this work.
Follow this author @TheGreatMambino