Yeah, I know he and his $19 million still reside in the purple and gold, but the longer this drama plays out and the more micro-analysis of the player we have to hear, the more it seems like a foregone conclusion that the inept Jim Buss will trade the versatile pivot man sometime this summer.
Now, I'm in the "Trade-Andrew Bynum-Before-His-Knees-Crumble" camp—that contingent of Laker fans that would rather see the team deal the injury-prone center for a king's ransom and keep the incomparable Gasol. I happen to think that Bynum's watershed breakout season—and his health throughout—was more the exception than the rule and that the Lakers would be wise to cash in while he's still young and vigorous.
Still, it seems like a Gasol trade is preferred by Laker management, so let's fire up the NBA Trade Machine and explore some reasonable Gasol trade possibilities, even though all of them are less preferable than those involving Andrew Bynum.
If the Lakers are going to take such a dramatic step to change the complexion of the team, they best be fully sure that they address one or multiple needs as a result.
Here are just a few of the larger needs, all of which will be addressed to some degree by the subsequent trade possibilities.
Mike Brown's team was dead last in the NBA in bench scoring, averaging just 20.5 points per game. That was 1.4 points less than Boston, which was 29th. When Kobe Bryant exits the game, the Lakers must have a player or two who can create shots and score in bunches to tax the opposing defense.
The Lakers—clearly a team inclined toward the interior on offense—need to do a better job stretching the defense to open up driving and passing lanes. When you shoot a paltry 32 percent from the arc as a team, your opponent's defense isn't exactly scrambling to close out on your shooters. Instead, defenders clog the key and create problems for your dominant post players.
Whether it's failing to keep up with a playmaking guard or getting lit on fire by athletic swingmen, poor perimeter defense is basically a part of the Laker DNA at this point.
For years, Derek Fisher chased around the West's bevy of All-Star point guards as they shredded the Laker D. Now, big shooting forwards like Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Rudy Gay give the Lakers fits with their size and quickness.
No matter how stout the stats say their defense was this year, the Lakers must address their backcourt deficiencies; no team that checks in with the fewest steals in the NBA creates enough easy baskets to contend for a championship.
Fingers were crossed that the addition of Ramon Sessions would further strengthen the Laker defense against quick scoring guards...but the opposite happened; the Laker defense was overtly—and statistically—worse after the Sessions trade.
The Lakers identity is caught up in their bigs and Kobe; they dictate a slow-down, half-court game that uses a lot of clock. Not surprisingly, the Lakers finished second to last in transition points with only 9.3 per game, a number they need to improve on to counter the common strings of stagnant possessions in which they stand and watch Kobe throw up a bad shot.
Some of the forthcoming trades register as failed per the Trade Machine, but once contract details update with the end of the season, they will all be possible.
Chicago Bulls gets: Pau Gasol (two years, $38.3 million), Hakim Warrick (two years, $9.6 million) and Sebastian Telfair (one year, $1.5 million)
Phoenix Suns gets: Ronnie Brewer (one year, $4.37 million) and Andrew Goudelock (one year, $762k)
Lakers get: Joakim Noah (four years, $50.3 million) and C.J. Watson (one year, $3.7 million)
In this three-teamer, the Suns also acquire the peace of mind of having Gasol out of the Pacific Division. Phoenix gets an interchangeable defender who can run the floor and a streaky backup guard, while offloading one bad contract and one expiring contract.
The Bulls and Lakers exchange big men in a swap that saves the Lakers a wad of cash over the life of Noah's team-friendly contract.
You may say that the Lakers now have two true centers who will just clog up the paint and muck things up. I think that a Noah-Andrew Bynum combo works because Noah is not a low-post scorer and will assent to floating around the perimeter, setting screens and generally being active away from the paint. This allows Bynum to do his thing on both ends of the court, while getting help on the defensive glass from Noah.
The Bulls make their "win-now" play to insert Gasol at the center spot, possibly at the expense of their near-term cap situation.
Toronto Raptors get: Ben Gordon (two years, $25.6 million), Tayshaun Prince (three years, $21.6 million), a 2012 second-round pick and a 2013 first-round pick from Pistons
Detroit Pistons get: Gasol, Linas Kleiza (two years, $9.2 million) and James Johnson (one year, $2.8 million)
Lakers get: Will Bynum (one year, $3.5 million) and Detroit's first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2012 Draft
Toronto, one of a few teams with cap space in the NBA, is brought in to make salaries match so that Detroit can acquire Gasol.
The Raptors are content taking on Detroit's albatross contracts, which are just short enough to not hamper their future. After next season, Toronto would have approximately $28 million committed, so having two quality players like Gordon and Prince, plus the two draft picks, mean that the Raptors could improve sooner than later.
The Pistons make out well in this deal, shedding some expensive starters while getting their prize big man to team with the budding Greg Monroe.
Gasol's deferential tone meshes well in Detroit, where Monroe and Brandon Knight are clearly the future of the franchise. Team those two youngsters with Gasol, James Johnson and Charlie Villanueva, and you actually have the resemblance of an NBA team.
The Lakers immediately downgrade their roster by only getting Will Bynum in exchange for Gasol, though Bynum has been one of the league's most explosive bench players, which is something the Lakers desperately need post-Lamar Odom.
But, more importantly, the cap space these acquisitions generate—in addition to a top-ten pick in the deepest draft in 25 years—point to a future-minded Laker plan, the benefits of which might not manifest themselves until years after this trade.
Rockets get: Pau Gasol
Lakers get: Kyle Lowry (two years, $11.9 million), Marcus Morris (one year, $1.96 million) and Houston's first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2012 draft
General Manager Daryl Morey is long known to have chased Gasol, and he'll certainly be among the most earnest of suitors leading up to the draft.
This trade might actually be a steal for the Rockets, given Lowry's recent public discontent over Houston's retention of Kevin McHale as coach. The point guard apparently did not get along with the first-year coach this season and wants to be traded.
If Lowry is going to cause headaches for the coach and management, disrupt team chemistry and leave after the 2013-14 season anyway, why not jettison him while the window of opportunity for Gasol is wide open?
Losing promising second-year forward Marcus Morris is a small price to pay to finally get the guy Morey wants.
The Lakers again accomplish three goals here: shed payroll (first and foremost), add a threat at point guard and add quality depth. Lowry, at a palatable $12 million for the next two years, pushes Ramon Sessions to the bench where he belongs and shortens up the Laker rotation, while adding some bench firepower.
Philadelphia 76ers get: Pau Gasol
Lakers get: Andre Iguodala (two years, $30.6 million) and Jrue Holiday (one year, $2.6 million)
This trade is based on Philly's assumption that they will lose Holiday as a restricted free agent after next season.
And really, why wouldn't they assume that after how things played out on the court this year? Holiday was widely expected to unleash a major breakout season, as he thought ready to claim the role of best player on a team with a lot of B or B-minus talent.
Instead, Iguodala decided he'd turn in the most win shares per 48 minutes of his career by becoming a facilitating point forward. At the same time, Lou Williams—a Jason Terry impersonator—and Evan Turner turned in hallmark years, as they were entrusted with more responsibility by coach Doug Collins.
The confluence of these occurrences left Holiday with the scraps off table instead of the keys to the offense. He took big steps back statistically, posting lower numbers in shooting percentage and assists, because he never found a rhythm or adapted to the reality of his team.
All this is to say that Holiday suddenly doesn't look as central to Collins' plans as he did a year ago, and the Sixers might consider moving him if it helps them land Gasol.
Aside from the issue of Ron Peace moving to the bench, where he's not nearly as effective, this is a no-brainer for the Lakers in a situation in which a Gasol trade is inevitable. In Los Angeles, Holiday doesn't have to be a star, and Iguodala can fill so many needs that the Lakers have between the perimeter and the post.
New Orleans Hornets get: Pau Gasol
Lakers get: Al-Farouq Aminu (one year, $3 million), Greivis Vasquez (one year, $1.2 million) and the 10th pick in the 2012 draft
The Hornets certainly could make Pau the anchor of their rebuilding effort alongside the presumed No. 1 one pick, Anthony Davis. With superstar guard Eric Gordon likely out the door as a restricted free agent, the Hornets will be short on star power with Emeka Okafor, Aminu, Trevor Ariza, Vasquez and Jarrett Jack as the best returning players.
The presence of Gasol frees up Davis to develop at a slower pace, to excel at what he's good at early on and not carry the pressure of having to be great offensively.
Plus, there's no better teammate to learn low-post offense from than Pau Gasol.
Even if Gasol isn't an integral part of New Orleans' plan to rebuild, he would be worth his high number just by accelerating and maximizing Davis' game.
The Lakers add two burgeoning players in a thrifty move that actually gets them under the salary cap for next year. With that burden lifted, the Lakers would be free to immediately turn around and exceed the cap in a free agency that will feature impact players like Goran Dragic, Steve Nash, Jason Terry, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Carl Landry.
Plus, with that 10th pick in the draft, the Lakers could nab any promising rookie from Perry Jones to Kendall Marshall to John Henson to Terrence Jones to Jeffrey Taylor, depending on how the draft plays out.
Three rotation players for roughly $8 million in exchange for Gasol, plus whomever they land in free agency, is a pretty favorable outcome for a Laker team dragged down by its payroll and age.
This deal is contingent on Minnesota not tendering Michael Beasley an offer sheet and declining their options on Martell Webster and Brad Miller to create the cap space requisite to acquire Gasol. Using the amnesty clause on Devin Harris' $8.5 million is also necessary.
Minnesota Timberwolves get: Gasol and Devin Harris (one year, $8.5 million)
Utah Jazz get: Luke Ridnour (two years, $8.3 million) and Minnesota's 18th pick in the 2012 draft
Lakers get: Derrick Williams (one year, $4.9 million, with two team options for $5.3 and $6.6 million, respectively), a sign-and-traded Anthony Randolph (???) and Gordon Hayward (one year, $2.7 million)
The T-Wolves surrender their cap space and take on Utah's bad contract (Harris) to pair Gasol with Kevin Love and Spanish muchacho, Ricky Rubio. The benefits of this are obvious, as Gasol gets to move to center, while coalescing with two outstanding young superstars into a potent offensive trio.
Utah continues to simultaneously rebuild and compete with savvy moves, shedding Harris for this season, as management prepares to trade Paul Millsap in a blockbuster deal. Ridnour is a short-term stopgap, who is always a solid contributor and presence, whether off the bench or as a starter.
The Lakers get three players with tantalizing potential, each of whom covers the 2 through 4 spots on the court. If Mike Brown gets anything out of Anthony Randolph, the Laker youth movement would come crashing into the present much sooner than everyone expected.
Boston Celtics get: Gasol
Lakers get: Rajon Rondo (three years, $36 million)
This is an offer that is realistic in theory, but hasn't been dignified by either side, thus far, and will likely never come to fruition.
This trade makes all kinds of sense for both teams.
For the Celtics, they get a superstar big that speeds the coming transition from the Big Three era to the era of What Next? The addition of Gasol also complements Paul Pierce and helps fill some of the new-found cap space that the departures of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen create.
If the Celtics head into free agency with Pierce, Gasol, Avery Bradley, Greg Stiemsma and a good chunk of cap space, they would be a free-agent point guard (Goran Dragic, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller) and a couple decent role players (lots of those this summer) away from, at the very least, remaining a playoff power.
Yes, the complexion would be different from the Garnett-Allen-Rondo team, but cap space and changes of scenery are common curealls in the NBA.
One the other side, the completion of this deal would cause champagne bottles to pop and the city of L.A. to throw a ticker-tape parade for the Lakers. They would get Rondo for three years at just over half of what they'd pay Gasol over that time frame.
Say that out loud: you can have Rondo for $12 million a year or pay Gasol almost twice that amount to bicker with Kobe and play out of position.
I don't care if he's a Celtic and won a title in Boston. Give me Rondo, cap space and an offensive transformation over Pau.
Cleveland Cavaliers get: Gasol
Lakers get: Anderson Varejao (three years, $28.3 million), Omri Casspi (one year, $2.3 million), the 24th and 33rd overall picks in the 2012 draft and the top seven protected pick in 2013
The Cavs exchange Varejao and a few of their many picks for Gasol. A core of Gasol, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and whomever they land with the fourth overall pick in this month's draft is promising for a rebuilding team that has a lot of cap space in 2012 and even more in 2013.
For the Lakers, Varejao would be a perfect fit.
He's the consummate hustle forward, who has the size and strength to rebound and puts an emphasis on defense. His offensive game is rounding into shape as he reaches his late 20s, and the threat of hitting an 18-footer clears significant space in the paint for Andrew Bynum to go to work.
The pairing of Bynum and Varejao, who earns $11 million less than Gasol this year, would be a formidable challenge to score on and would likely lead the NBA in rebounding.