"Could" is a funny word.
The New York Knicks could turn their season around. Owner James Dolan could refrain from damaging his team's future beyond repair. The Los Angeles Lakers could land Tyson Chandler in a deal headlined by Pau Gasol.
True story on that last one.
According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, the Lakers called the Knicks to inquire about Iman Shumpert but are also known to be smitten with Chandler:
Sources say the Lakers also are interested in another Knicks player -- center Tyson Chandler. The Lakers did not inquire about Chandler when they called about Shumpert, but they are weighing whether to propose a Pau Gasol-for-Chandler trade, according to sources.
While Broussard noted New York isn't actively shopping Chandler, the injured big man isn't considered untouchable, hence Los Angeles' interest.
Any deal struck between the two sides wouldn't need to be complicated in structure, but would have to fit a number of simultaneous demands.
Armed with ample cap space this summer, the Lakers figure to be free-agency players. Hemorrhaging talent and bound financially, the Knicks are looking toward 2015 when Kevin Love is available, hoping that's enough to convince Carmelo Anthony to stay put.
Pulling the trigger on this swap changes those plans, morphing them into something different. But could that be mutually beneficial and therefore, something better?
Formulating a Deal
Creating a deal that adhere's to the CBA's strict financial limitations won't be difficult. "Simple" is actually the word we're looking for.
A Gasol-for-Chandler swap won't work straight up, because Gasol's salary ($19,285,850) exceeds Chandler's ($14,100,538) by more than $5 million. The Knicks, being capped out six different ways to hell, would have to send more Los Angeles' way.
That brings us to why New York would consider a deal at all—J.R. Smith.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year has been worse than awful, as recurrent bouts with inefficiency and immaturity continue to define his campaign. Adding his salary to the mix ($5,565,000) allows the Knicks to send roughly $19.6 million Los Angeles' way, pushing the deal through financially.
But the Lakers aren't interested in Smith's contract, according to Broussard. Who would be?
So the Knicks would likely sweeten the pot with Shumpert ($1,703,760), who the Lakers are actually interested in.
Other, secondary players could exchange hands, but that's a strong starting point. Los Angeles wants Shumpert and Chandler, New York shouldn't want Smith and this works financially.
The framework is done.
If You're the Lakers
You Do This Because...
You're done with 2014.
Even after signing Kobe Bryant's extension, the Lakers could have $22 million to spend this summer, more than enough for a max contract. Trading for Chandler and (potentially) Smith erases most of that space.
Chandler himself is on the books for over $14.5 million next season. Toss in Smith's roughly $6 million salary, and Los Angeles' cap room is gone, which could be a problem. Maybe.
Those who've watched the Lakers this season (and last) know their interior defense has turned to mush. Blame head coach Mike D'Antoni if you're feeling deflective, but the Lakers haven't had the personnel to protect the rim, either.
Last season, there was a physically impaired Dwight Howard and an equally injured and disengaged Gasol. This season, there's a struggling Gasol, seldom-used and defensively lackluster Chris Kaman and Robert Sacre. Put those big men together and what do you have? Rim protection that parts like the Red Sea.
The Lakers are dead last in points allowed in the paint (48). Chandler, while an injury risk, gives them a lockdown defender who won't block many shots but deters dribble penetration by providing excellent help defense and forcing mid-air adjustments upon opponents.
Purple and Gold doesn't have a big man like that at the moment. From Sacre to Jordan Hill, they're a weak defensive team once you journey inside the arc.
Let's look at the graphic and see how Chandler's defensive rating compares to Los Angeles' top towers:
If I were a serial liar, I would say to move along; there's nothing to see here.
Not one of the Lakers bigs are posting a defensive rating under 104. Inserting Chandler into their lineup would do wonders for the defense, and it removes a disgruntled Gasol from the rotation as well.
From the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke:
In one corner of the Lakers' practice gym stood Pau Gasol, his constant smile pulled tight.
"The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness," he said. "When I'm not getting the ball where I want to, where I'm most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity."
Chandler isn't going to wax dissatisfaction on offense. Defense is his thing. Pick-and-rolls and putbacks at the other end are fine with him.
Bringing in Shumpert is simply the affordable cherry on top. Still on his rookie deal, he gives the Lakers a talented perimeter defender who showed flashes of offensive promise last postseason without breaking the bank.
All cap flexibility would still be gone this summer, but with Chandler's deal coming off the books in 2015, those who dream of pairing Kobe with Love won't lose any sleep. Nor should anyone else, since the Lakers, looked at through this lens, are getting a pretty good deal for a fading Gasol.
You Don't Do This Because...
You're not over LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Or because Smith has forgotten how to play basketball.
Making this deal, or something similar, means free-agency binging must wait another year. By that time, Kobe will be another year older and, more importantly, one year away from likely retiring.
Mortgaging this summer's potential on Chandler, Shumpert and Smith won't make the Lakers instant contenders. Perhaps they'll struggle toward a playoff berth this season, but they won't be winning any championships. Unless they're able to dump Steve Nash's 2014-15 salary on someone else, more disappointment awaits next season, too.
Pressure to contend isn't there now. The Lakers only just got Kobe back and they're literally out of point guard options, save for the Black Mamba himself.
Next year, the bar will be lifted. Sacrificing now was about the summer of 2014. All the Lakers' problems would be solved. New stars would bring more championships and optimism. Try selling a fanbase that's accustomed to hanging banners on another year of waiting. See how that goes.
And if that's not enough, I'm almost certain a roster comprising Nick Young, Kobe and Smith would mark the end of the world.
If You're the Knicks
You Do This Because...
You have something else up your sleeve. And because Dolan is bored and hates Shumpert. But mostly the sleeve thing.
Gasol's $19 million-plus salary comes off the books after this season, which doesn't put the Knicks under the salary cap. Or even close to it. What it does is leave them one Amar'e Stoudemire dump away from making a serious splash.
With Smith's and Chandler's contracts gone, that gives New York an extra $20 million to play around with. If it's able to flip Stoudemire's deal for an expiring one before this season is out, that opens up $23.4 million of additional cap space.
Now it's time for us to break out our thinking caps, calculators and smarty-pants pills.
Per ShamSports.com, the Knicks, with all options included, will owe approximately $90.6 million in player salaries next season. Once again, that's assuming Anthony re-signs and Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani don't exercise their early termination options (likely).
If you suddenly remove Chandler, Smith and Stoudemire from the ledger, that's more than $43 million in salary gone, leaving the Knicks with under $50 million in commitments. That number could decrease depending on New York's ability to dump Raymond Felton's or Bargs' contracts.
But no matter what, if the Knicks found a taker for STAT—which Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling reports isn't impossible—they would have room to operate. And they'll have achieved such room while eliminating some serious competition.
The Lakers will no longer be free-agency players if they accepted this deal. That guarantees Anthony goes nowhere and ensures there's one less big-market power attempting to sell stars on their future.
Grab Dolan a hanky. He's driveling all over himself write now.
You Don't Do This Because...
You've never been lucky. And because moving Stoudemire isn't a sure thing. And because you like the way Chandler dresses. And because you realize your defense is crap as it is.
Deep breaths, everyone. That was a lot to take in.
Notice how I didn't previously discuss how Gasol helps the Knicks on the court, because he doesn't. Pushing 34, he's nowhere near the player he used to be. At this point, he's the equivalent of Bargs, only he passes and cannot shoot threes well.
The Knicks don't need a another soft, offensively inclined big man. These Knicks, who rank 26th in defensive efficiency, need stops. They need (a healthy) Chandler.
Gasol won't give them defense. His offense is no longer guaranteed, either. All he brings is an expiring contract laced with questions.
What if the Knicks cannot trade STAT for an expiring deal after this one? Though he's not immovable, is he worth an expiring contract? What if the they strike out in free agency after dumping STAT? What if 'Melo, turned off by Chandler's departure and a poor 2013-14 finish, leaves anyway? What if (gasps all around) he makes his way to the Miami Heat, who have flexibility if each member of the Big Three opts out of their current deals?
The latter is beyond unlikely, but agreeing to a deal like this guarantees nothing. There will still be questions without answers. Anthony will still hit free agency with inquiries of his own to lodge. Fail to move STAT in favor of cap room, and the Knicks will still be handcuffed financially until 2015, maintaining a status quo that would be more appealing with Chandler in the fold.
Fetch Dolan another hanky. He's crying this time.
And the Winner Is...
No one. Or both of them. Maybe only the Lakers or Knicks.
Only subsequent events will determine the winner or mutual benefit of any potential deal. Both teams could win or lose.
Ambiguous answers are no fun, though, especially when what we know allows us to make an educated guess fated to become fact.
Less risk is involved for the Lakers. Poaching Anthony or LeBron remains a long shot, and if both of them stay put, the 2014 free-agency class is grotesquely overrated.
Having missed out on the biggest fish and desperate for star power, the Lakers could overpay middling free agents like Luol Deng or Gasol himself, killing their chances of going ham in 2015.
Negotiating a trade like this allows them to remain relevant for the next year-and-a-half while keeping an eye on 2015, when LeBron and a slew of other players could be free agents.
The Knicks, meanwhile, would be relinquishing their second-most important player (Chandler) and a young stud (Shumpert) on the off chance they can expedite the re-tooling process. So many things could go right in that scenario, but even more could go wrong.
Once the dust settles, if this trade or one like it is made, the Knicks are far more likely than the Lakers to become victims of what could be.