Some would say that this Lakers season couldn't look much worse. With injury piling on top of injury including several to a living franchise legend and the team slowly slipping into standings oblivion, this 82 game slate is looking desolate. Despite a future that gets better and better with each loss, I couldn't imagine this year getting much worse.
But it could. What if you had to root for Andrew Bynum again?
According to Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, this nightmarish possibility has progressed beyond mere speculation. Bynum has been on the block for a week, having been suspended by Cleveland for what essentially amounts to bad behavior and a crappy attitude. This should come to no surprise to Lakers fans everywhere, as Drew spent the majority of his career in LA being, for lack of a most fitting term, a dumbass.
The Cavaliers are "aggressively" shopping him, with the main draw of his acquisition being his only partially guaranteed deal that would essentially serve as a way for any team to wipe millions off their salary cap figure. Bynum has been only somewhat effective on the court this year, vacillating wildly in his performance from game to game. Any organization that would be trading for him would most likely value any financial contribution he'd make over anything he could do on the floor.
Thus, the ongoing discussion between the Cavaliers and Lakers. The two organizations are reportedly talking a trade that would send Gasol to Cleveland, while Bynum and his non-guaranteed contract would come back to the Lakers (LA would most likely have to take back another player to make the salaries work for trade purposes). They would then waive their newly acquired former center before his $12.25 million dollar contract would become fully guaranteed, thus saving over $20 million in salary and luxury taxes. The Cavs are also allegedly talking to the Bulls on the possibility of sending Bynum to Chicago in return for Luol Deng, with Chi-Town saving money on luxury taxes as well.
For the Cavs, this trade is a no-brainer if it's just a one for one swap. Cleveland is a truly pitiful 10-20 in the weak Eastern Conference, but it's that very same conference that's keeping them in the playoff race: the Cavaliers are just 2 1/2 games out of the 8-seed. Their roster has been a mess all year, rife with infighting and mismatched personnel. Bynum is but just one part of this jumbled puzzle, further jamming up and already clogged and flawed front court rotation. Teammates like Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller clearly aren't ready for prime time duty yet, while Anderson Varejao is just about ready for his annual season-ending injury. Gasol would be a clear upgrade over an unsteady unprofessional like Bynum, as well as a much more experienced player than Zeller, Bennett and even Tristan Thompson.The Cavaliers desperately want to make the playoffs this year and Gasol would likely help them do that.
For the Lakers, it's not quite as clear if Bynum and his cap-clearing contract would be quite enough for the team to deal one of their only trade chips.
This season, in my estimation, is a lost cause at this point. The Lakers have dropped two in a row to two of the worst teams in the league, amidst a massive wave of injuries and going into their toughest month of their entire season. They are five games out of the postseason picture, a chasm that I suspect will grow between now and when Kobe Bryant returns in early to mid February. Meanwhile, it looks like Gasol isn't helping stave off many losses. Even with the Spaniard in the line-up, the Lakers are quite simply a bad team. He's not helping matters with some of his most public sniping with the coaching staff and management to date. It's clear that Pau sees himself as a much better player than the Lakers interpret him as, which will create a huge discrepancy in his perceived value. I don't see much of a chance that the Lakers would keep him past this season, as his salary demands as well as desire to be featured in the offense will most likely send him packing elsewhere.
In short: there's no sense in keeping Gasol if there's any chance for the team to a) save money or more importantly b) receive draft picks or young prospects. Holding onto Gasol is a nice little keepsake of past title glory, but building a title contender doesn't often match with sentiment.
If the Lakers make this deal, trading Pau if it's simply to clear some luxury tax room. Personally, I don't really care if the organization saves $20 million dollars--I'm not a stockholder or an employee. In fact, if Gasol is creating locker room discord that's leading to on-court failures, the team should probably consider keeping him if for nothing else than stacking up losses to get higher in the lottery. However, if draft picks (say, the Cavs-owned 2015 Memphis first rounder) or young players were included, there would be a lot of incentive to get this trade done. Going forward, the Lakers want to keep as much cap room open for a max player like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. However, the team will need cheap(er) young guys to fill out a strapped roster.
Looking at Cleveland's personnel, Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson are 22 years old and under, with lottery pedigrees and tons of upside. The addition of any of those players to a Bynum-led deal would absolutely make this trade viable for the Lakers. Yes, Bennett has been a disappointment as the number one overall pick thus far, and Waiters has been a problem on and off the floor, but both guys can be developed with the right coach and organizational infrastructure. Like Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson, they're very much worth the gamble.
I've written time and time again how difficult it would be to deal Pau Gasol, but I have mentioned that one of the most tempting trade partners lies in Cleveland. Dealing him just for the sake of saving money might only affect the on-court product in so much as the Lakers might be more willing to go into the luxury tax in future seasons if they were under the threshold for this and next year (as the "repeater tax" hits a team if they are over the luxury limit three of the previous four seasons). This could affect the team, but the Lakers were seeking to get far under the cap for the next few seasons to score a big time free agent anyway.
If the Lakers have any shot of getting a draft pick or a prospect without taking back much future salary (especially for anyone that's not a prospect), GM Mitch Kupchak should have no problem trading away Gasol. However, if the Lakers are just saving money this year with this supposed Cleveland deal, perhaps they should wait to see if they can find those assets elsewhere.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino