For the second offseason in a row, the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be looking to part ways with Pau Gasol, the all-star big man who helped the team achieve post-Shaquille O'Neal relevancy and was instrumental in bringing home two consecutive championships.
However, after a pair of disappointing playoff runs where Gasol seemed to be unfocused at times and not playing up to his enormous potential, the team feels there are players available who could make more of an impact for the team than the skilled seven-footer.
The Lakers have plenty of needs heading into this offseason—the team still needs to find a long-term solution at the point guard position, address the need for a more athletic small forward to replace Metta World Peace and generally acquire more youth and speed on the court.
The Lakers are contenders as long as they have Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, but they will have a hard time clawing their way to another finals appearance unless they make some serious positional upgrades.
Luckily, there are plenty of teams in the NBA that are desperate to add elite big men, and many would be more than willing to give up quality pieces in order to bring back Gasol—one of the most gifted power forwards in the league in terms of his ability to score, rebound, block shots and pass out of the post.
The Lakers may not be too high on him anymore, but that doesn't mean a ball club looking to add legitimate size wouldn't be willing to part with some serious talent.
Without further ado, let's take a look at five players that the Lakers may be able to bring to Los Angeles in exchange for Pau Gasol...
By now, Kyle Lowry's issues with head coach Kevin McHale have been well-documented. According to ESPN, he even said that if the team's coaching situation is not addressed, he may push for a trade.
The Houston Rockets have expressed significant interest in Pau Gasol in the past, nearly acquiring him in the vetoed Chris Paul trade, and it would make plenty of sense for the Lakers to deal the all-star forward to fill their need at the point guard position.
In his breakout season, Lowry averaged 14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists while connecting on 37.4 percent of his three-point attempts. He played brilliantly at the beginning of the season, garnering all-star support and murmurs of MVP consideration before wilting down the stretch due to injuries.
His versatility was staggering. When he was playing his best basketball, Lowry was a nightly triple-double threat thanks to his grittiness, court vision and ability to attack the basket.
With Ramon Sessions opting out of the final year of his contract, the Lakers should be looking to make an upgrade at point guard if one is available. Lowry would make an excellent backcourt teammate for Kobe Bryant because he can alleviate some of the scoring burden while also being able to push the pace of the game and take a larger role in the offense.
In addition, he is a far better defender than Sessions, meaning he could be charged with guarding the opposing team's best guard at times instead of always letting the assignment fall to Bryant. He hounds the ball extremely well, averaging 1.6 steals per game last season, and is willing to get physical when necessary.
Lowry has two more seasons on his contract, and is set to earn $5.75 million next year and $6.2 million in the 2013-2014 season. This is hardly a steep price for such a talented player and one who would fill a glaring hole in the Los Angeles roster.
Lowry could be the team's point guard of the future, helping them contend while Kobe Bryant is still elite, but also forming a formidable guard-center tandem with Andrew Bynum as the team looks to the future.
With the emergence of Evan Turner in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston, it seems Andre Iguodala may once again be on the trade block for Philadelphia.
The team is desperate to add some quality size to their roster, and is seriously considering using their amnesty clause on veteran power forward Elton Brand (via the Philadelphia Inquirer). The Los Angeles Lakers have been looking for an upgrade at the small forward position due to the declining play of Metta World Peace, and bringing in a hyper-athletic defensive-minded swingman like Iguodala would be an excellent addition for the team.
Iguodala is one of the league's premier perimeter defenders, but he also possesses a unique mix of skills that would be a great addition to the Lakers lineup. If the team does not find a new long-term point guard, Iguodala has the passing instincts and unselfishness to spend time running the team's offense as a point-forward.
He averaged 5.5 assists last season, and often would initiate the 76ers' offensive sets. The Lakers' lack of playmakers has been exposed in their past two playoff runs, so it is essential that they address it this offseason.
Offensively, his athleticism and strength allows him to barrel past opposing forwards and finish with authority around the basket. Playing in a Western Conference filled with athletic wing players, the Lakers need someone who can consistently attack the rim off the dribble and break down opposing defenses.
Iguodala also connected on a career-high 39.4 percent of his attempts from deep last season, although he would often pull up for jump shots when he should have driven the ball inside. Still, L.A. could use some more floor spacing for Andrew Bynum, and if he can continue stroking the ball, Iguodala should help in that department too.
It is unclear how much more Metta World Peace has in the tank, and if the Lakers want to continue to contend for a championship, they need to add a player who can contain the league's elite players at the two-guard and small forward positions.
Iguodala is set to make $14.7 million next season and has a player option for $15.9 million for the 2013-204 season. It might not be the best trade to preserve cap room, but Iguodala is a player who could make an immediate and significant impact in a Los Angeles jersey.
This one may be a bit of a stretch because it would leave the Lakers with a pair of centers, but having extra size is never a bad thing, and Noah is agile enough to lineup at power forward as well.
The Bulls and Pau Gasol have been linked previously (via NBA.com), and for a team that needs a secondary scoring threat and more offensive production from its big men, trading for Gasol makes plenty of sense.
In exchange for Gasol, Los Angeles would receive one of the NBA's premier defensive big men. The combination of Noah and Andrew Bynum would be an absolute nightmare for opponents trying to attack the basket, and they would form a frontline akin to Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson with the Houston Rockets in the 1980s.
The Lakers have long been a bastion of quality bigs, and adding Joakim Noah would give them the league's best defensive frontcourt.
Last season, Noah averaged 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, redeeming himself after a dishearteningly slow start to the season.
Noah has one of the best motors of anyone in the NBA. He is constantly playing full throttle on both ends of the court, willing to rotate to contest a shot, making second and third efforts around the basket for offensive rebounds and diving on the floor for loose balls. Few players are as willing to sacrifice their bodies as Joakim Noah, and that kind of hustle is essential to a team looking to contend for a championship.
Though he does not have a great set of post moves, Noah's offensive game is improving, and he has proven to be a decent scoring option on the block and one of the few centers in the league who can consistently knock down his foul shots.
In addition, he is an excellent passer, reminiscent in many ways of Gasol himself. He reacts very well while in the post and knows when to kick the ball out to a teammate either open on the perimeter or slashing down the lane. If he continues to improve his passing, a team could even run their offense through Noah for stretches of a game.
Noah just finished the first year of a five-year, $60 million contract, meaning Los Angeles would have to really be enamored with him to make the deal. That being said, if they believe that Bynum and Noah could coexist, he could certainly be a difference maker on both ends of the court.
After a career season in which Josh Smith averaged 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and nearly two blocks per game while keeping the Atlanta Hawks afloat in the wake of Al Horford's injury, it may be difficult to picture Smith on the block.
However, the Hawks have never totally committed to Smith, shopping him in the past and seeming to prefer Horford as their power forward of the future. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Smith himself has expressed displeasure with Atlanta.
The Hawks have primarily stuck Horford at center because they haven't had a quality player at the 5, but in trading for Gasol, they would have their center and finally be able to slide Horford back to the 4. With the addition of Gasol they would have one of the most well-rounded, formidable starting lineups in the entire NBA.
But we're not here to talk about what Atlanta would get out of a Gasol deal. The Lakers would be acquiring a versatile big man who is a lockdown, multi-position defender, excellent rebounder, shot-blocker and—when he's motivated—powerful interior scorer.
Issues have been raised about his focus at times and his insistence on hoisting up contested 20-footers and poorly timed threes, but that's a small price to pay for such a talented player.
Smith would primarily play the 4, though he could slide down to small forward in a larger lineup or depending on who he had to cover. He would give the Lakers an excellent interior defender who can also move out to the perimeter without losing a step.
Having another elite shot-blocker behind Bynum would make it that much more difficult for opponents to get in the paint, and Smith has shown that he can be a great shot blocker and help defender when necessary.
Though he is a veteran of the league, Josh Smith is still only 26 and trading for him would give the Lakers a frontcourt pair to build around once Kobe Bryant is gone. It seems that Smith has finally flipped the switch and is playing to the fullest extent of his potential.
Even if it turns out he is not the right fit for Los Angeles, Smith's deal expires at the end of next season and the team could simply move on.
However, it is not often that a player that can impact every facet of the game is available, and the Lakers should absolutely pull the trigger on a Gasol-Smith swap if it is possible.
There are few players that the Lakers' fans and organization despise more than Paul Pierce, so while this move is one that may not go over very well, it is not completely far-fetched.
Boston would have to be willing to part ways with one of the greatest players in franchise history in order to help their team win now, but if they are willing to do this deal, it could potentially be huge for Los Angeles. The Celtics, with Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass as free agents, desperately need size and have Jeff Green waiting in the wings as an option at the 3 down the road.
By now the need for a new small forward in L.A. is obvious, and Paul Pierce is still an elite player at the position. He is one of the league's cagiest offensive players and has remade himself as a very solid defender as well. After a slow start to the season due to a heel injury and conditioning concerns, Pierce came into his own and averaged 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while keeping Boston afloat amid a rash of injuries.
Pairing Pierce with Kobe Bryant would give the team a pair of veteran perimeter scorers who would be a nightmare to contain when they are both on. They understand what it takes to win a championship and know each others' game very well.
Though Pierce is 34 years old, his game doesn't hinge on athletic ability and he still has several more quality seasons left. This move would obviously be made for the sake of winning with Bryant as the centerpiece and not one with an eye on the future.
Defensively, Pierce can cover almost any small forward in the league effectively. He battled Andre Iguodala and LeBron James pretty well during the postseason, although James did wear him down as the series went on.
He may seem a bit slow-footed, but Pierce has the strength to not be bullied around and comes from a great defensive team in Boston. In addition, he could spend time at the shooting guard spot and even, in a smaller lineup, play the 4 for stretches.
He would also give L.A. another player who can close games beyond Kobe. Often teams will key in on Bryant because they know he is getting the ball in crunch time, but Pierce has proved countless times in his career that he is capable of hitting big shots when they matter most.
Just as the Celtics did when they traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Los Angeles would have two players capable of shining during the biggest moments, whether in the regular season or the playoffs.
This is easily the most unlikely scenario here, but it makes sense for both teams involved, and the Lakers would be getting back an all-time great with quality basketball still left to play.