So, color the 2013-14 campaign complete.
According to Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico, the Lakers are reportedly open to dealing Gasol before the regular season begins. He writes that Los Angeles may look to make a "substantial" trade in the near future and that Gasol is far from "untouchable."
Just for kicks, read that one more time while listening to this in the background:
Gasol has spent the better part of the last three years on "the block" and he's yet to be moved. The closest the Lakers came was in 2011, when David Stern prevented them from acquiring Chris Paul from the then New Orleans Hornets.
Circumstances have changed in the Land of Make Believe since then. Gasol is no longer expendable. As ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne pointed out, he's important to what the Lakers are building both now and later:
Lakers insist @paugasol is still very much their guy for this year. See him as a key for them this year.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) October 14, 2013
Change is a fluid concept in The Association, so there's no guarantee the Lakers are humming the same song tomorrow. But general manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. are smart enough to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, meaning they should understand there's little to gain by ditching Gasol now.
Who Ya Gonna Get?
Trading Gasol would be like trading Kobe Bryant. Lakers fans wouldn't be as enraged, but financially the plausible scenarios don't align with what the team's goals would be in any deal. Gasol's expiring pact, like Kobe's, is that massive.
The bouncy-haired Spaniard is slated to make $19.3 million this season. Los Angeles could attempt to move him for any number of reasons, none of which will make sense in the long run.
Saving money could be reason numero uno. Shedding Gasol's $19.3 million salary puts the Lakers under the luxury tax threshold...in theory.
Los Angeles will have to take someone(s) back to make the finances match up. His salary won't just magically disappear from their books. Few teams in the NBA are prepared to make that kind of financial commitment without sending back ample salary. There's no such thing as a clean break here.
Of course, the Lakers could merely be concerned with "getting worse" in anticipation of the 2014 draft, in which case the caliber of talent they receive won't be a sticking point.
But even that logic is flawed.
Expiring contracts totaling $10-plus million don't grow on trees. Unless the Utah Jazz roll up with an offer of Andris Biedrins ($9 million) and Richard Jefferson ($11 million) or Marvin Williams ($7.5 million), the Lakers will be hard-pressed to find organizations with the necessary contracts to make it work.
Any deal the Lakers make involving anyone from now until 2014 has to be with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, among others, in mind. They can't take on any long-term salary if they wish to peruse the shelves of top-tier free agents expected to be available next summer.
Putting themselves in position to land two stars in addition to re-signing Kobe is going to be difficult as it is, and that's with the Lakers having just two players under contract next season (Steve Nash and Robert Sacre). Taking on more salary past this year impedes their pursuits even further.
There's always the potential for the Lakers not to care, though. In the unlikely event they find out LeBron is prepared to opt in for one more year with the Miami Heat or, more likely, if they express a desire to flip Gasol for an A-List player, they could hit the trade market looking for something substantial in return.
Though that sounds great, such thinking presents issues of its own.
Gasol, 33, is coming off his worst-ever NBA season, during which he posted a career worst in points (13.7) and field-goal percentage (46.6) and played in a career-low 49 games. Receiving adequate talent in return will be impossible, even for teams sold on him having a bounce-back campaign. The Lakers value him more than any interested suitor would.
His expiring deal complicates things, too. Prospective courters won't fork over valuable assets if they aren't assured Gasol will re-sign over the offseason.
Assuming the Lakers overcome all these obstacles, assuming they find an interested suitor who doesn't care about Gasol's health or age...what's to gain? Lapsing contracts that help them tank? Middling talent on long-term deals?
No thanks, I'll pass.
There is no Kevin Love to be had for Gasol. I'd be surprised if the Milwaukee Bucks, in all their confounded glory, were willing to put together a package built around John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova, among others.
Unless the Lakers suddenly plan to tank (see the Jazz trade), dealing their big man isn't worth the headaches such discussions would incite or the return they'll be able to net.
The Kobe Bryant Factor
Gasol isn't Dwight Howard, meaning Kobe doesn't want to tear him limb from limb, unfollow him on Twitter or fill his locker with an active beehive.
Trading Gasol isn't going to sit well with the Black Mamba, whom we know the Lakers are still intent on keeping happy. Mere discussions of dealing Gasol haven't jibed with Kobe in the past, and that's not going to change now.
After Howard left, Kobe made it clear that he and Gasol were in this together (see the picture above). What kind of message is that sending if the Lakers unload one of his most trusted companions?
Los Angeles has already gone against Kobe's wishes once this offseason. He wanted to keep the core intact—which would have meant retaining Metta World Peace—and make another run at a title. But the Lakers amnestied World Peace anyway, opting for the $19 million in savings from luxury taxes and salary.
Moving Gasol next suggests the Lakers aren't committed to winning this season. While acceptable to fans of Andrew Wiggins, Kobe isn't one to tolerate an aversion to winning in the hear and now. Doesn't matter if the team has no chance of winning the title, Kobe is a competitor. And whatever move the Lakers make pertaining to Gasol, it won't be one that boosts their ability to compete.
Again, the Lakers aren't going to pull the trigger on a deal that jeopardizes their spending potential next summer when LeBron, 'Melo and others who could be available. Nor should they. Any return they're bound to negotiate, will then consist of expiring contracts and, most likely, players not suited to spark a playoff run.
Were word to come out that Kobe would miss all or most of the season because of complications in his Achilles recovery, then "tanking" becomes acceptable. Kobe still won't be happy, but he can only gripe so much from the sidelines.
Neither Hollywood nor Kobe has reached that point. Returning on opening night has basically been ruled out, but he's going to come back.
Asked if there's a chance Kobe plays Oct 29 opener, D'Antoni said: "No. I don’t think so. It’s an ongoing process, but that would be tough.”— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) October 15, 2013
When he does return, the Lakers would be wise to have a team worthy of playoff contention waiting for him. A team Gasol is still a part of.
Ripple Effects Now and Later
If the Lakers want to make the playoffs, they need Gasol. End of story. And all indications are, they want to make the playoffs.
Aside from placating the Mamba's innate desire to win, there's a need for this team to move on from last season. Trading Gasol—or, rather, knowingly damaging the ceiling of this team—isn't going to help the Lakers move on.
All it's going to do is irritate Kobe and allow Howard to become the missing link. Think about that. Not everyone will see this move as the Lakers planning for the future, no matter what they do. Howard leaves and suddenly the Lakers disband their team?
The incensed headlines will write themselves.
With Gasol and a healthy Kobe, the Lakers have the potential to distance themselves from last year. Coach Mike D'Antoni can ask "who?" of Superman and really mean it. They can't pass up that opportunity, not after the depreciation that last season inflicted on their blueprint.
Mike D'Antoni answered a question about the Lakers moving on without @DwightHoward with a single word: "Who?"— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) October 15, 2013
Los Angeles has to think bigger picture here as well. Peddling Gasol across the league like a knife-and-fork salesman may seem like a good idea for a Lakers team trying to buy losses, but 1) they shouldn't be trying to buy losses and 2) the Lakers may need Gasol beyond next season.
Deliberately fielding a lottery-bound unit doesn't always pay off. Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats would attest to that. More pressingly, selling LeBron and whoever else the Lakers chase on a gutted roster coming off a losing season has the word "failure" written all over it.
Gasol says he won't take a pay cut to stay with the Lakers after this season, but he could change his tune, just like Kobe might. Staring at a team prepared to add another superstar or two, he and Kobe could stay along for the ride at a discount and chase more championships.
However unlikely it seems that Gasol would take less to stay in Los Angeles, any chance of it happening vanishes if he is traded. He's not going to give consideration, let alone special discounts, to a team that repeatedly shopped him then ultimately traded him when they needed him.
Going Nowhere (Probably)
Tanking. That's why the Lakers would actually part ways with Gasol before the season is out.
How will Gasol's future play out with the Lakers?
Kobe. That's why the Lakers are never, ever going to tank.
LeBron. Anthony. Dwyane Wade. They're more reasons why the Lakers shouldn't quit on this season, otherwise they risk compromising their free-agency sales pitch.
Nowhere. That's where Gasol is going. He's too valuable for the Lakers to trade without endangering what they have planned for today, tomorrow and the day after that.