The Lakers completed the majority of their free agency work inside a roughly 24-hour window between Monday and Tuesday. While it was a quick use of their time, it also made for a busy opening day, one during which many options were surely discussed.
One of the primary talking points so far for the Lakers has been the departure of Alex Caruso, who left for the Bulls on a four-year, $37 million deal despite offering the Lakers a chance to retain him at a lower price. Los Angeles declined, opting instead to save money on the luxury tax and try to replace him with cheaper players.
Before losing him to Chicago, though, another option presented itself for Caruso that would have also included another beloved Laker. On Wednesday’s “The Lowe Post” podcast episode with Zach Lowe and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Shelburne revealed the Lakers had a sign-and-trade offer from the Minnesota Timberwolves that would have included both Caruso and Marc Gasol (emphasis mine):
“Caruso had a couple of deals, and I’m sure you’ve heard some of these too, Zach... He had a couple of deals, somewhere around the mid-level. One was a team that didn’t have to do a sign-and-trade, and that was the Bulls, and that was the one he preferred anyway.
“But I heard the Timberwolves were in on this. It would have been a sign-and-trade, and they actually would have taken back Marc Gasol. Like that could have been salary cap relief for the Lakers, not just a trade exception. So we’ll see if they end up needing those exceptions, we’ll see if they end up needing those extra tools to build this roster out, but I think that’s really where we’re going to decide ‘was the Westbrook trade a success?’”
Shelburne frames it as having been salary cap relief, but the Timberwolves did not enter free agency with cap space. Minnesota was just $5 million below the luxury tax line entering free agency and could not have taken on Caruso and Gasol’s contracts without sending back equal value in a trade. A three-way trade could have offered a solution to that issue, however.
The only way for the team to have created a trade exception, as Shelburne notes, is if they received less in return for Caruso and Gasol than they sent out. The only way to do that is by trading them to a team that has cap space to absorb them, which Minnesota does not. In short, that aspect of trading Gasol and Caruso does not make sense as it’s reported by Shelburne, and would have required more teams to be involved.
But whatever the actual deal was, the more notable takeaway here is that the team was open to trading Gasol, or even potentially salary dumping him. Like Caruso, Gasol was a fan favorite last season who struggled to find minutes late in the season in a crowded frontcourt. At just $2.6 million, Gasol’s salary is effectively a veteran’s minimum deal, so trading him for salary cap relief would only save the Lakers a marginal amount of money, especially when they would have to sign a big man to replace him. Gasol, 36, recently committed to play out the remainder of his deal rather than retire.
On the court, Gasol was a part of the Lakers’ most-used lineup, along with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dennis Schröder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, that finished with a net rating of +13.2. The three-man unit of Gasol, James and Davis played 347 minutes together and had a net rating of +13.4. Gasol was a valuable player last season.
Finding a player on a veteran’s minimum or even with the taxpayer’s mid-level exception that meshes so perfectly with James and Davis would be a difficult, if not impossible, task this offseason. It’s encouraging that the Lakers balked at the idea of not offloading Gasol, but that it was on the table should maybe raise an eyebrow.