Pau Gasol's Contract Playing Key Role in Trade Rumors Around Lakers Star

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21:   Kobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers confer during the game with the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center on October 21, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings won 99-92.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers has become the equivalent of a trade-rumor-mill dumpster.

Every time something goes wrong in Hollywood, every game that passes in which Gasol doesn't live up to the standards of his contract, the power forward falls deeper into the bottomless pit that is the NBA's rumor mill.

And that's just the problem—Gasol's contract.

As Janis Carr of The Orange County Register notes, Gasol's standing within the organization as a result of his struggles has never been lower:

For the second time since he took over, Coach Mike D’Antoni benched the Lakers All-Star forward in favor of Antawn Jamison, who he thought was having a more productive night. Once again, the move baffled Gasol.

It's not just that Gasol is struggling to produce at a high level in Mike D'Antoni's system. Sure, he's averaging a career-worst 12.6 points on 42 percent shooting while posting a career-low PER of 15, but that's not the actual problem.

Nor is the genuine issue at hand finding a taker for Gasol. Yes, the big man is 32 and in the midst of the worst season of his career, but should the Lakers put him on the chopping block, there will plenty of suitors blowing up Mitch Kupchak's phone.

The conflict, then?

What the Lakers would be forced to risk by dealing Gasol—their future.

Los Angeles' once prolific big is owed more than $38 million over this season and next. That's not an easy contract to move.

Again, it's not a lack of interest that will plague negotiations but instead the financial commitments.

Let's say the Lakers find a team willing to assume Gasol's contract. What then?

Los Angeles and its purported trade partner will then have to make sense of, well, the dollars and cents, that's what. 

Any team the Lakers decide to play ball with is going to have to send Los Angeles back around $19 million in salary to make a deal work. Assuming that some team has $19 million worth of expiring/expendable deals stashed away—unlikely—how do the Lakers make such a trade without jeopardizing their ability to contend now?

Yes, Los Angeles is struggling, but the Lakers are still a viable contender. Shaking the roster up midseason for a handful of odds and ends that could struggle to fit in a new system isn't going to strengthen their cause.

More likely, however, is the Lakers seeing themselves take back at least one or two long-term deals to make such a deal come to fruition. And why would they want to do that?

Los Angeles can fantasize about trading Gasol for a star in his prime, but it's not going to happen. Not when he's 32, and certainly not when he has nearly $40 million owed to him over the next two years.

As such, trade targets like the New Orleans Hornets' Ryan Anderson are being thrown around, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

The name that keeps coming up for the Lakers is Ryan Anderson, the Hornets’ long-distance shooter who was once a Net and later played for three seasons with Howard in Orlando. He’d be perfect. But first, they want to see if Nash can jump-start Gasol.

The takeaway here is the waiting and seeing, which the Lakers will have to continue to do even if Steve Nash cannot salvage what is left of Los Angeles' power forward.

Gasol may be in the early stages of a full-fledged demise, but is trading a four-time All-Star for a situational product in Anderson honestly going to benefit the Lakers' cause? Especially when he's owed $34 million over the next four years? And especially when that only makes up about half of what the Lakers need to take back in annual salary?

Not if Los Angeles' end goal is to both contend and have a promising future.

To be honest, Anderson does fit D'Antoni's bill more than Gasol does. To be even more honest, though, the other contract or two he'll come along with—whether it be from New Orleans or a third party—may not.

And to be obnoxiously honest, Anderson doesn't fit the bill for what the Lakers are looking to do past this season.

Remember, Los Angeles is a team that reportedly plans to target LeBron James himself in the free-agency frenzy that will be 2014. Actualizing said pursuit, however, is predicated on the Lakers shedding more than $70 million in payroll between now and then. 

Currently, the only player under contract heading into the summer of 2014 is Nash. Assuming the Lakers retain Dwight Howard, that leaves two players under contract, accounting for roughly $30 million in salary.

That figure gives the Lakers more than enough to chase LeBron and any other free agents they desire, including Kobe Bryant and, most importantly, Gasol himself.

The Lakers don't shed that much payroll unless they allow Gasol's contract to come off the books after next season. The space he creates facilitates their pursuit of anyone they want.

Players like Anderson, among others, who are still under contract at that point, though, do not.

And this is what the Lakers are up against. There's a market for Gasol, but not one that will yield an altruistic star in return, enhance their current dynamic or strengthen their financial outlook in the slightest.

Los Angeles also has to keep in mind that Gasol's value won't even be at its peak until after this season. When his contract is set to come off the books, then transitioning teams will be ready to pony up star-esque players in return for some financial relief.

Theoretically then, why wouldn't the Lakers let the season with Gasol unfold now and attempt to capitalize off his increased value later? After all, if they're going to put an end—or even simply dampen—their financial flexibility moving forward, why not do so while receiving the most they can in return?

So yeah, Gasol's contract is playing a key role in the battery of trade rumors currently swirling around Tinseltown. His deal means everything to the Lakers' future plans, leaving Kupchak and company to tread more than carefully when navigating these waters.

Trading Gasol is not to be taken lightly, after all. Not when the Lakers have planned so much around the expiration of his deal. 

Which is why Los Angeles, the most impatient of franchises, is attempting to endure the trials and tribulations of what was once one of its most prized possessions; the team has no choice but to at least try to make this union last.

Lest the Lakers be content with dismantling a promising future blueprint in favor of a schematic that proves even more detrimental than Gasol's demise currently is.



Stats in this article are accurate as of December 3, 2012.