Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol can't seem to avoid trade speculation this year, but he still seems to have secured a spot with the Lakers for the foreseeable future. Given the failed trade talks between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers just can't seem to find a way to trade their best big man.
But that might be for the best.
Most importantly, the Lakers have no other viable options at the center position. Jordan Hill has proven to be a solid player this year, with a fantastic 21.7 PER in limited playing time.
But after that, there isn't much. Chris Kaman is not a reliable scorer (8.2 PPG) or the solid defensive player he once was. There are also only two power forwards on the roster: Shawne Williams and Ryan Kelly, neither of whom have shown the scoring touch or a solid inside presence.
While the Lakers' winning prospects obviously aren't in great shape this season, they would be in trouble in the future if they were to get rid of Gasol. They need to hold onto their best big man to ensure they have a solid inside game when they do finish rebuilding.
Granted, Gasol is 33 years old. He likely has no more than five productive years ahead of him. But the Lakers should use those five years to their full capacity, and there is a good chance they will have a solid team within those five years anyway. That is, of course, assuming the Lakers re-sign Gasol, an option in which the Lakers center has shown interest.
There's also the matter of what the Lakers can possibly get for Gasol. The most likely trade option, Andrew Bynum, is now going to the Bulls.
It really comes down to whether the Lakers want to make a trade that puts them on the short end of the stick, in terms of the talent they would receive, for the sole purpose of leaving the team in a better situation financially.
Gasol is also a key player in the Lakers' offensive attack. They rely on him for most of their inside scoring, and he has (somewhat) delivered in that sense this season, despite Kobe Bryant's absence. His 15.6 PPG might be a tick below average for him, but that still ranks second on a Lakers roster that has plenty of scoring distribution. (Five players are scoring in double digits this season.)
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni certainly relies on Gasol, who has scored 73 points in his last three games. Explaining Gasol's recent improvement, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin, D'Antoni said, "One is being healthy, that’s going to help. Two, I think the rhythm of the team was better, and once that is [the case,] then he gets more confident and more aggressive. We want Pau to be aggressive. We want him to be in the post every time, or at least in the play every time."
Finally, not all is lost for the Lakers with their current talent. Nick Young has proven to be a solid scoring leader, and if Bryant can come back strong, "Swaggy P" is a more than viable option at small forward. He's shown that he can score (16.6 PPG) while coming off the bench, and he's done so with respectable efficiency (43 percent from the field).
So, while many are quick to turn to the tanking strategy for the Lakers, it's not quite as bad as one might think. Much of that hinges upon a successful return by Kobe Bryant, but would you expect anything otherwise from the NBA's best competitor?
Gasol's importance to his team's offense, the lack of a viable trade options and the Warriors' current talent means a trade would be unwise. For now, it looks like Gasol will stay put, and that's for the better.