Perhaps we should stop being surprised at this point. After yet another round of trade talks, this time with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the tax relief that Andrew Bynum's contract would have provided, the Los Angeles Lakers have once again decided to hang on to Pau Gasol.
The decision likely wasn't an easy one, but there's a misconception that the Lakers kept Gasol because there are hopes of being competitive this year, even on a minor scale. There's a theory that waving the white flag is something so unappetizing to such a proud franchise that it can't even be considered.
That paints the Lakers as delusional, or at least stubborn. But unlike the Kobe Bryant extension, this decision wasn't rooted in emotion, reputation or perception. Here's what sources told ESPN.com when the trade talks for Gasol stalled:
The major issue, sources said, involves the Lakers' desire to get an additional asset from the Cavs (...) The Lakers are interested in also getting a young prospect or a first-round draft pick as part of the deal.
Lakers owner Jim Buss had a chance to save well over $20 million this season and get under the tax, but he passed. And while there's value to getting under the tax, the Lakers will be hard pressed to be a repeater next year anyhow given their lack of current long-term deals.
Point being, the Lakers held out for an asset that wasn't just money. How many teams would pass on saving over $20 million for the chance, not the guarantee, but for the chance of acquiring a future asset before the trade deadline?
This wasn't an organization clinging to false hope and holding on to the past, but rather an organization investing rather heavily into the future.
Now comes the real test. Will the Lakers be able to secure an asset for Gasol now that the chance to acquire a large non-guaranteed deal has passed? What can the Lakers realistically hope for in a trade? Let's explore.
Here's the primary challenge facing the Lakers in a Gasol trade.
Ideally, the Lakers don't want to bring back any substantial future salary with a Gasol trade in order to retain max cap space for this offseason.
That's going to be awfully tough, as only a few teams will have the ability to cobble together enough expiring deals to match Gasol's salary of $19.2 million. It's also not a given that the teams with the ability to exchange expiring deals with the Lakers would want Gasol in the first place.
There is a chance that the Lakers could take on some future salary, but it seems unlikely. Players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh could possibly enter free agency this season, and we've seen very recently that general manager Mitch Kupchak typically likes to leave the door open whenever possible.
That will make trading Gasol tough, but you would think at least one team has the expiring deals and the incentive to make it happen.
Take the Charlotte Bobcats, for example. The Bobcats are in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference, and Josh McRoberts is the starting power forward. McRoberts has played well and been a nice glue guy, but Gasol represents a massive upgrade.
Armed with the expiring deals of Ben Gordon ($13.2 million), Ramon Sessions ($5 million) and a future first-round pick, the Bobcats could make a strong play for Gasol and possibly retain him at a much cheaper rate next year.
For the Lakers, a deal like that would be ideal. Getting a first-round pick with no future commitments (and players who won't have the Lakers stumble into accidental competency this year) is a best-case scenario. Whether a team will want to sacrifice a first-round pick for a rental or not remains to be seen, though.
Due to the self-imposed future salary restrictions, the primary asset desired in a Gasol trade has to be a future first-round pick.
Even if it's a heavily protected pick, the Lakers need to have trade assets to use. Right now, due to the Stepien Rule, the Lakers can't deal a first-round pick until 2019. Again, it's all about having options.
At the very least, the Lakers could acquire the rights to swap picks with a team in exchange for Gasol. Given their market size and financial backing, it makes sense for Kupchak to bet on the team's future against most other teams, even if the pieces aren't in place quite yet.
As it stands, missing on a pick in the upcoming draft would be absolutely devastating for the future of the franchise. The more chances the Lakers can get, the better.
Ignore the Market
It may seem like an odd thing to do, but the Lakers can't get hung up on the market the Chicago Bulls set with their Luol Deng trade. While Deng is a more valuable player than Gasol because of age and current production, their size and type of contracts are very similar.
It's important for the Lakers to look past any similarities there, though. There's a real chance that Gasol is lost for nothing but cap space this offseason if they set the price anywhere nearly as high as Chicago did.
Getting out of the tax is no longer an option, but it's also still doubtful that the Lakers would be able to receive a future first-round pick, get the option to swap first-rounders and pull down two second-round choices like Chicago did.
Acquiring a single draft pick or a high-potential player on a cheap rookie-scale deal should be enough for Gasol.
The Lakers are unlikely to get "fair" value in a trade, but as the deadline approaches, that will be easier to accept. The Lakers have passed on multiple chances to deal Gasol in the past, but so long as there is a logical suitor out there willing to part with something that can help the Lakers down the road, that streak should end at the deadline.