Once the news emerged that Perry Jones III had been red-flagged because of a knee problem, the Lakers' hopes of trading into the Top 10 of this year's draft and emerging with a solid post player were diminished.
In fact, once the Jones news came out, the Lakers should have stopped shopping Pau Gasol at all. After Jones' value plummeted because of the injury concerns, there was no longer an attainable top-10 forward on the board that would've given the Lakers adequate value for their all-star power forward.
And yet, the Gasol-related madness might not yet be over.
After the Lakers failed to acquire a first-round pick during Thursday's draft, general manager Mitch Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina that L.A.'s offseason activity was far from over. Instead, he vowed to hit a "home run" during free agency.
He told Medina:
I think if this group is kept intact—we got some work to do with existing free agents and the free-agent market in general—I don’t see why we couldn’t be in the hunt next year. We may be nipping at the heels of a couple of teams in the West, but we know that the team in the NBA that had the best record this year didn’t advance to the Finals.
But just because Kupchak didn't mention a Gasol trade, or just because he vowed to keep the nucleus of the Lakers intact, doesn't mean Gasol is safe.
If the Lakers are going to bring in a premiere free agent who is capable of giving this team what it needs to contend with the Thunder and the Mavericks, they are still going to have to move around some pieces—and one of them could very likely be Gasol and the $38 million he's owed over the next two years.
Unless the Lakers want to downgrade, though, they'd be best served to hold on to Gasol through next season. Trading for certain top-10 prospects made sense, but if this team is gearing up for a title run with the core still intact—which is what Kupchak seems to be indicating—dumping Gasol's salary no longer makes sense.
The Lakers need Gasol up front. And if they don't have him, they need someone like him. Who are they realistically going to bring in during free agency who averages a double-double and isn't a defensive liability?
If that player exists, and he has any intention of coming to L.A., the Lakers are not going to get him without spending a boatload of money, which they don't have. They need to find some way to bolster this lineup without trading Gasol or else commit themselves to the idea of rebuilding—and, in the process, putting themselves in a risky position for next year's postseason.
The draft was the Lakers' only hope of dealing Gasol and maintaining their position near the top of the Western Conference. Now, they have to keep him and find another way to reboot for a title run.