Time for the Los Angeles Lakers to call it a season.
More than half of the 2013-14 campaign remains, but it's already clear the depleted Lakers aren't going anywhere special. And instead of prolonging the inevitable or feigning immediate purpose, they should fly their purple and gold flag at half mast while prominently waving a white one.
That starts with trading Pau Gasol once and for all.
By trading Gasol in a package for Bynum and then waiving Bynum, the injury-ravaged Lakers could save more than $20 million in salary and luxury taxes, which could help them maintain financial flexibility heading into the next few summers. A Gasol-Bynum trade would have to include at least one other player to make the deal work under league rules, and perhaps other assets from Cleveland.
Gasol-related rumors are nothing new. The NBA's regular season wouldn't feel right if the Lakers weren't passively dangling Gasol in multiple trade proposals. But each time the Lakers appear ready to deal their four-time All-Star, talks abruptly cease. That, or commissioner David Stern gets involved.
This time should be different. This time the Lakers should actually move on.
This time they should actually surrender to reality.
Where Are They Going?
It's been known for awhile the Lakers value Gasol more than the market does. Not to say they've been loyal, because let's face it, they haven't. Gasol's name has crept into the rumor mill like clockwork since 2011.
But every time a possible deal imploded or rumors were disproved, we got the sense Los Angeles balked at moving him for lack of palatable offers.
Long before the Chris Paul trade fell through, the Lakers' asking price was clear: They wanted a star. They wanted multiple impact players. They wanted a lot.
Now's the time they can accept a little.
Not only is Gasol 33 and fragile, the Lakers are finished. Done. Cooked.
Mike D'Antoni has done an admirable job coaching marginal components playing for their next contract, but the Western Conference and injury bug have become too much.
Look at their roster. Really look at it. Sifting through their injury report is depressing business. Physical ailments have consumed the Lakers, depriving them of the opportunity to make a legitimate playoff push.
Kobe Bryant? Down. Steve Blake? Sidelined. Xavier Henry? Hurt. Steve Nash? Still Hurt. Jordan Farmar? Hurt. Again.
Able-bodied players are almost nowhere to be found in Los Angeles, where the Lakers have lost six straight and are now 5.5 games off the West's final playoff spot. Erasing that deficit in an overbearing Western Conference is impossible when your best player (Kobe) cannot play and he's joined by a slew of others.
The way things are shaping up, the Lakers won't make the playoffs for the first time in eight years—Gasol or no Gasol. Dealing him only ensures they're not overpaying for a calculated disaster.
The Lakers owe nearly $79.2 million in player salaries this season, per ShamSports.com, putting them well over the luxury-tax line. Flipping Gasol for Bynum, who can be waived, and other pieces allows them to escape this year's tax, saving the team even more money later on when dreaded repeater taxes come into play.
Bynum isn't a star, nor will he even don purple and gold again. But he prevents the Lakers from overpaying now, and handicapping their financial future, for a team that just isn't good enough.
Most of Los Angeles' future has been predicated on "if."
The Lakers would be ready for life after Kobe if Dwight Howard re-signed. Ample cap room would go a long way in summer 2014 if LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony agreed to join Kobe. The Lakers would contend for a playoff spot if they're healthy.
Those incessant, unrelenting if's have become sickening. General manager Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers haven't been piloting their own destiny. Not really. Extending Kobe and leaking plans of forthcoming grandeur imply authority, but the Lakers had none. They have been at the behest of others for too long.
This deal gives them power. Restores order.
Call the Lakers what they are: Tankers. Use platitudes like "rebuilding" and "transition period" if that makes you feel better, but pulling this trigger makes the Lakers tankers. Mercifully.
Aside from financial gain, trading Gasol enhances the value of their 2014 first-round draft pick, no small feat considering how disgusting the Eastern Conference is. Though losing now will be difficult to stomach, a top-seven, or even top-10, pick is worth enduring.
This year's draft class is loaded with potential franchise-altering talent. From Andrew Wiggins and Jarbari Parker, to Joel Embiid and Julius Randle, among others, there are future stars to be had.
Stars the Lakers, a projected lottery team anyway, can chase harder than ever without Gasol.
In no way can I sit here and tell you trading Gasol guarantees Los Angeles anything other than tax benefits.
I cannot promise you the Lakers will land a top-five selection. I cannot say with absolute certainty Kobe won't give Kupchak and the Buss family the silent treatment until next season.
Hell, I can't even assure you the Lakers will tank properly. Nick Young could channel his inner Kobe meets LeBron and catapult the Lakers into no-man's land.
But I can promise Gasol's departure won't be in vain. Possible rewards outweigh any risks. The Lakers would renounce their rights to Gasol this summer anyway to create the cap space everyone's so excited about.
That, coupled with his inconsistent health and production, makes his departure feel inevitable. Might as well save a few shekels now and increase chances of drafting a star, while potentially adding a future pick, if that's the case.
"I’m used to it by now," Gasol said of trade rumors, via the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. "It’s been a constant thing for me. It’s like getting up from bed and having breakfast."
Much like Gasol became accustomed to trade rumors, the Lakers must warm up to the idea of trading him and tanking, or "transitioning" or whatever you want to call it.
Sacrificing now for later makes far more sense than anything else they're currently capable of doing.
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