Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol once won back-to-back NBA championships together as part of the Los Angeles Lakers' frontline. Now, with Bynum on the outs in Cleveland and Gasol's future in Los Angeles in question, the two 7-footers could be the principals in a trade for one another.
Citing sources close to the situation, ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne reported on Dec. 31 that the Lakers and Cavaliers were discussing a trade that would send Gasol to Cleveland and Bynum back to Los Angeles.
Updates from Wednesday, Jan. 1
From NBA.com's David Aldridge:
Hearing the Gasol-Bynum proposed deal not likely to happen.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) January 1, 2014
It's unclear how serious the dialogue has been at this time. The ESPN report indicates no deal is "imminent," but both sides would have to work quickly to get the framework of a transaction in place. Cleveland has until Jan. 7 to decide whether to pick up the second half of Bynum's $12.25 million salary for this season—a move the team is widely expected to decline.
Bynum signed a two-year contract with the Cavs this offseason, but only $6 million of the $24 million was guaranteed. There are multiple outs in the deal designed to insure Cleveland against incurring cost for injury, and the contentious relationship between player and organization makes this partnership predestined to end.
The Cavaliers suspended Bynum indefinitely last Friday, citing "conduct detrimental to the team." While the suspension without pay lasted only one game—costing Bynum about $111,000—he is currently on "paid leave," which excuses him from all team activities. This move was likely to avoid drawing the ire of the players association, which would have wanted to look into the matter had Bynum gone unpaid for much longer.
Bynum appeared in 24 games with Cleveland, averaging 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He has been cleared to play in back-to-backs and has at times shown flashes of his former self, but it's unlikely the Lakers or any team would trade for Bynum with the expectation of keeping him.
Los Angeles currently has $79.19 million in salaries for the 2013-14 season, putting it over the luxury-tax threshold of $71.7 million. While the Lakers haven't been shy about paying the price in the past—they've done so in each of the past six seasons—a trade for and subsequent release of Bynum would put them on the track to avoiding the tax.
That's important because there is a massive punitive tax for repeat offenders under the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement. The Lakers print money as a franchise, but with their season quickly spiraling out of control, the looming specter of another tax bill could get talks moving.
The team is 1-5 since Kobe Bryant suffered a fracture in his knee on Dec. 17, losing each of the past five. At 13-18 on the season and Bryant's comeback on an indefinite hold, the Lakers look destined to miss the playoffs for just the third time since 1976.
A potential deal would also allow them to end their relationship with Gasol, which has been contentious to say the least. Though the Spaniard was an integral force on both recent championship squads, he's been in and out of trade rumors perhaps more than any other player during his time with the team.
The latest buzz crops up at a time where Gasol's relationship with coach Mike D'Antoni has come under question. Enduring the worst professional season of his life, Gasol openly criticized his usage in D'Antoni's offense in an interview with Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times.
"The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness," Gasol 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."
D'Antoni shot back, indicating Gasol should "play harder," per Shelburne. Effort has been in question for much of the season for Gasol, with Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding even calling him out for "bailing" on his team.
Cleveland could represent a much-needed change of scenery for Gasol, who averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds under now-Cavs coach Mike Brown in Brown's only full season in Los Angeles. Either way, with both franchises having obvious difficulty motivating their big men, there's a potential swap to be had here.
All that's left is seeing whether either side is willing to budge on desirable assets.
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