Breaking Down Why LA Lakers Must Avoid Trading Pau Gasol

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 27:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers leaves the court with four fouls in front of Pau Gasol #16 and Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers most recent outing, a 92-86 loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns, has put the Purple-and-Gold Nation on red alert.

Coming on the heels of a season-saving 3-0 stretch, that loss looms largely for both the playoff pipe dreams of the organization and the futures of some of the Lakers personnel.

Laker fans may welcome a sense of urgency on the floor, but they'd prefer a much more patient approach from the front office—the same front office whose knee-jerk reaction cost former coach Mike Brown his job just five games into the regular season.

Stubbornness may very well plague current coach Mike D'Antoni's L.A. tenure, but a determination to keep this roster intact for the remainder of the season offers the Lakers a chance at redemption when next season tips off.

Thoughts of the future have a short shelf life in the championship-or-bust world of the Lakers, but they need to drive the team's resolve to hang on to former All-Star Pau Gasol past the trade deadline.

Moving Gasol would be tough as is. The 32-year-old has suffered through the worst season of his 12-year career. Those struggles are only magnified on the trade market by the $19.2 million he's owed for the 2012-13 season.

Considering the Lakers lack desirable draft picks and inexpensive, youthful talent to sweeten any Gasol trade, the team wouldn't find anything remotely close to equal value in return.

But the importance of keeping the big man in the fold extends well beyond the pennies-on-the-million-dollar players they could attract.

The Lakers must keep Gasol for at least as long as it takes to get some kind of assurance that Dwight Howard will don the purple and gold after this season. The team's lackluster play and obvious mismatch between Superman and D'Antoni has battered beyond recognition the presumption of Howard's return that accompanied his acquisition.

A lack of frontcourt depth became crystal clear during a costly loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 6 that sent Gasol, Howard and reserve Jordan Hill to the infirmary. Rookie Robert Sacre was plucked from the D-League and then made the starting center for the Lakers two nights later.

Three interior injuries would devastate any franchise, but Hill's a complementary piece to the two true centers. Losing both Gasol and Howard over the coming months could send this franchise reeling in a maybe-Sacre-isn't-that-bad direction.

Not to mention the fact that Gasol's biggest supporter in the organization is Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

The franchise has already acted against his wishes once this season (choosing D'Antoni over former coach Phil Jackson). The only thing worse than facing a future without Gasol and Howard, is facing that future with a disgruntled Bryant on the roster.

Not to mention the fact that despite the Lakers' struggles, there's still a playoff pulse for this club. At 20-26, it may be a long shot, but it remains a shot nevertheless. There are legitimate concerns facing every Western Conference team outside of the top six seeds, and none of the other franchises can match the Lakers pedigree.

Gasol doesn't have to finish his career as a Laker, but he can't be let go before the franchise knows whether Howard will still be with the team next year.

The Lakers have encountered a myriad of problems over the course of this season. Trading Gasol now exacerbates many of them, and solves none.