Rumors of Gasol’s potential exit from Los Angeles have been swirling since the team began to sputter last season, and with the draft approaching and Dwight Howard likely to leave in free agency, it seems the Lakers may plan to follow through in sending the big man elsewhere, as noted by Sam Amico of Fox Sports:
From everything I hear, they're trying. Dangling Pau to make splash. RT @JDMugno9: any chances lakers try to trade for a 1st round pick?— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) June 21, 2013
While Howard hashes out his plans this summer, Gasol is left to wait on his future—or at least he should be. If the Lakers trade Gasol and lose Howard in free agency, there won’t be much for Bryant to come back to.
General manager Mitch Kupchak apparently realizes that, as noted by Sam Amick of USA Today:
While Pau is aware that he may be traded, the problematic part for all involved is that Howard is taking his time with the decision. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said at end-of-season interviews that he was hoping Howard would make up his mind sooner rather than later, as there's a very real ripple effect on his ability to make key offseason decisions like, say, whether or not to trade Pau Gasol.
So why does Kupchak seem to be in the business of pursuing a trade that would send Gasol out of town prior to Howard’s free-agent decision? Either the GM knows something we don’t, or he has grown impatient with the situation and plans to rejuvenate the Lakers’ roster with some young talent in the draft.
Either way, now isn’t the time to dangle Gasol as a trade piece, especially with Bryant having already made known his plans to attempt a return by the start of the season, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
Should the Lakers wait until free agency to decide Gasol's fate?
While Bryant is neither coach nor GM, he is the franchise, and he will be until he decides to retire. It seems unlikely the Lakers would be willing to jeopardize their future chances of winning another title by losing both of their talented big men this summer. They have no control over Howard’s decision, but they hold all the cards in what happens to Gasol.
Of course, Los Angeles could always look for a deal that would bring in a proven veteran big man along with draft picks, but the odds of that happening seem slim at this point. Gasol is still a terrific player, but his value isn’t exactly sky high at the moment.
Unless Kupchak gets blown away by a can’t-refuse offer, he shouldn’t be in any hurry to deal Gasol short of free agency and Howard’s decision—at least not if he plans on winning when Bryant returns.