Once the Cleveland Cavaliers suspended Andrew Bynum for conduct detrimental to the team and then placed him on paid leave, you knew the trade rumors would start flying in.
According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne, the Los Angeles Lakers may have interest in acquiring their former center.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers have had discussions about a trade that would involve Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, league sources told ESPN.com.
No deal is believed to be imminent, but both sides are mulling it ahead of a Jan. 7 deadline when the second half of Bynum's $12.25 million salary would be guaranteed.
While the Lakers sound interested, they may have to get in line with the other suitors. According to the same report from Windhorst and Shelburne, the Chicago Bulls may be involved in discussions for Bynum as well.
The Cavs also have had separate discussions with the Chicago Bulls about a Bynum trade for Luol Deng, according to sources. The Bulls are in a similar position as the Lakers, about $8 million into the luxury tax and dealing with an injury-marred season.
The Bulls and Lakers both appear to be in the midst of lost seasons with their star players out with injuries, so why would they have interest in Bynum?
Although the Lakers won two rings with Bynum and the Bulls could use more size off the bench, make no mistake about it: Bynum's attractiveness as a trade target is almost solely because of his large non-guaranteed contract.
Throw out the prior performances, the potential and everything else. If either team acquired the mercurial center, they would be releasing him prior to January 7, when the other half of his salary for this season becomes guaranteed.
What Bynum could potentially give either team in a half-season isn't enough to pass up on the chance to get under the luxury tax, which is more punitive for repeater teams under the CBA. As it stands right now, both the Bulls and the Lakers are slated to make substantial luxury-tax payments this year:
- Los Angeles Lakers: $12,624,061
- Chicago Bulls: $11,945,749
Since the luxury tax is calculated by who is on the roster at the end of the season, acquiring Bynum and waiving him could put Chicago in better financial shape now while helping to avoid the repeater tax in the future.
Bynum is a unique and attractive trade target, mainly because he's the only player with a non-guaranteed deal of this size. The fact that Cleveland is also well under the luxury tax (short $10.1 million) with a "win-now" mentality makes it a perfect candidate to absorb some salary.
Although it would represent a shift in mentality for two proud franchises, both the Bulls and the Lakers could wave the white flag on this year by acquiring Bynum. Since both the Lakers and Bulls own their own picks this year, it might not be a bad idea to play for next season, which is a fancy way of saying, "tank."
The two most logical trade acquisitions for the Cavs on the Bulls' and Lakers' rosters would be Luol Deng or Pau Gasol, who are both on large expiring deals.
Both players have been yanked on and off the trade block throughout their careers, so it's no surprise to them that their names are being mentioned now.
Gasol told reporters, according to InsideSoCal.com:
I’m used to it by now. It’s been a constant thing for me. It’s like getting up from bed and having breakfast.
It means that I’m wanted. If no one wanted me, I wouldn’t be in trade rumors.
Cleveland has plenty of reason to want Gasol. He'd represent a huge upgrade both in terms of talent and character. But would he be a better fit than Deng, who could slide in perfectly next to Kyrie Irving and give Mike Brown a defensive-minded wing?
Maybe it doesn't have to be one or the other. Why not both?
Chicago Bulls Receive: SG Dion Waiters (3 years, $13 million), SF Earl Clark (2 years, $8.5 million*) and SG C.J. Miles (1 year, $2.2 million**).
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: SG Kirk Hinrich (1 year, $4.1 million), SF Alonzo Gee (2 years, $6.2 million*), C Tyler Zeller (3 years, $4.3 million), C Andrew Bynum (2 years, $24.8 million**) and Cleveland's 2015 first-round pick (via Miami).
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: PF Pau Gasol (1 year, $19.2 million), SF Luol Deng (1 year, $14.3 million), C Robert Sacre (3 years, $2.6 million) and PF Erik Murphy (2 years, $1.3 million).
*Next year non-guaranteed.
**This season's deal non-guaranteed before January 7.
Why Chicago Does It: Although the Bulls have reportedly balked at trading Deng, a move like this would be hard to turn down. In this scenario, Chicago would shave $8.5 million of payroll, which would place it just under the luxury-tax line. For extra savings, the Bulls could also waive C.J. Miles and his non-guaranteed deal this season prior to January 7.
In addition to reducing this year's salary and getting under the tax line, the Bulls would bring in a perfect fit for both the present and future in Dion Waiters.
Although he's been criticized much, Waiters has been a really good scorer when he's come off the bench in Cleveland. His ability to find his own shot is something Chicago desperately needs when Derrick Rose isn't on the floor.
Receiving a young player on a rookie-scale deal who fills a need while also getting below the luxury-tax line is a best-case scenario for Chicago, particularly since there's no guarantee that Deng will come back next season.
Why Los Angeles Does It: The Lakers have to renounce their rights to Pau Gasol this offseason to clear max cap space, so getting something in return for him now makes a lot of sense. After acquiring and waiving Bynum, the Lakers would be under the luxury-tax line for this year, which would be a huge accomplishment that could save the Lakers millions down the line in repeater tax.
Receiving a first-round pick for Gasol appears to be the goal, according to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer, and Cleveland's 2015 pick via Miami should suffice.
Although it seems likely that will be a late first-round choice, there's always the chance that Miami's Big Three splits up this offseason. It's a worthy pick to target, especially since the Lakers won't have their own pick in 2015.
Trading Gasol without adding future salary is going to be very difficult, but the Lakers would essentially accomplish that in this deal. The only player added would be former first-round pick Tyler Zeller, who comes extremely cheap and is actually a great fit with Mike D'Antoni's offense. Zeller is serviceable, and his biggest strength is probably his ability to run the floor, so he'd be worth keeping around.
Picking up a cheap big man, acquiring a 2015 first-round pick, gaining some lottery balls and getting under the tax line should be plenty of incentive for the Lakers to part with Gasol.
Why Cleveland Does It: No half-measures. If the Cavs really want to make a playoff run and make some noise, this is a good way to do it.
With a starting lineup of Irving-Jack-Deng-Gasol-Varejao, the Cavs would all of a sudden be a very dangerous team.
By removing problematic personalities like Bynum and Waiters and replacing them with quality character guys and veterans in Gasol and Deng, the Cavs might be able to develop some real positive chemistry, which is extremely important right now.
Acquiring Deng and Gasol would also add about $7.2 million in salary this year, but Cleveland would remain under the luxury tax and be slated for even more cap space this summer since Waiters and Zeller's deals would be off the books.
Which team would win this three-way deal?
By bringing in quality talent but no substantial long-term deals, Cleveland gets a free shot at competing this year while also leaving the door open for LeBron James, as unlikely as that scenario may be.
Although the Cavs would need to find a way to acquire some more depth on the wing, especially given Deng's medical history, this would be a relatively low-risk move considering the type of talent coming back. Losing a first-round pick along with Waiters and Zeller isn't ideal, but Cavs general manager Chris Grant may be feeling the heat, and a playoff run would almost certainly save his job and buy him more time and flexibility to add another star next to Irving.
So long as the Bulls and Lakers are ready to fold on this year and the Cavs are ready to push all-in, this deal could work for all three teams.