As the Los Angeles Lakers sink deeper in the Western Conference standings, finding a trade for Pau Gasol may become a bigger priority.
That's not going to be easy, though. Gasol's expiring deal worth $19.2 million is a massive one, and finding a team that is willing and able to send back a combination of expiring contracts and future assets like draft picks for a half-season rental is going to be awfully tough.
If the Lakers truly want to retain maximum cap space for this offseason, trading Gasol at the deadline probably doesn't mesh with that.
What seems more likely is that the Lakers will hang on to Gasol and simply let his contract come off the books. Once Gasol hits unrestricted free agency, it will be up to him where he wants to play the last days of his career, and at what price.
Which teams will be able to offer up the best fit and enough money to be a good landing spot for Gasol? Let's take a look.
It's a little shocking to think of Gasol in a San Antonio Spurs uniform, isn't it? Gasol has battled with Tim Duncan for so many years, but it's not out of the question that the two could join forces this offseason.
San Antonio should have about $7 million in cap room to play with, so long as Tony Parker's partially guaranteed deal is picked up and Duncan accepts his player option. For the chance to play on a title contender, perhaps a yearly salary starting in that range would be fine for Gasol, even though he's probably worth a few million more per season.
So long as the finances worked out, this would be a perfect match. Gasol's ability to play out of either post and pass beautifully would be perfect for San Antonio's motion offense, and Gregg Popovich has shown the ability to maximize and take care of veterans over the years. There's no support system that even comes close to what San Antonio could offer.
Gasol is exactly the type of quality character who could fit in seamlessly with San Antonio's established stars, and he would also fill the one noticeable hole (depending on your feelings about Tiago Splitter) on the roster.
This would be a dangerous pairing for the rest of the Western Conference.
Another Texas team could come calling as well. The Dallas Mavericks should have plenty of cap space this offseason to go after Gasol, even if Dirk Nowitzki signs a huge extension.
Dallas will likely look for younger stars, but staying in the window with Nowitzki and loading up on veterans isn't a bad idea either. Although there would certainly be some defensive issues, pairing an outside shooter like Nowitzki with a capable post scorer in Gasol would be dynamite offensively. That's a deadly high-low combo.
Playing under Rick Carlisle, who is one of the most creative coaches in the league from a scheming standpoint, should also appeal to Gasol. He won't be asked to do things he can't do, and reuniting with Spain teammate Jose Calderon could factor in as well.
Ideally, Nowitzki would have a player like Tyson Chandler next to him defensively, but something tells me Mark Cuban would have the faith in Carlisle to work it out if Gasol was the best talent available for Dallas to sign for one last run.
Depending on whether Luol Deng is retained in free agency (and for how much), the Cleveland Cavaliers should have enough cap space to go after Gasol this offseason.
While Gasol may not necessarily be a need with Tristan Thompson (and hypothetically, Anthony Bennett) at the 4 and Anderson Varejao at the 5, there could be some interesting mix-and-match options in the frontcourt here.
It's also important to note that the Cavs had discussions with the Lakers about Gasol during the whole Andrew Bynum ordeal, so there could still be some lingering interest on Cleveland's side. Based on this interview with Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Gasol doesn't sound adamantly opposed to playing under head coach Mike Brown again, either.
He told Boyer, "We worked hard, that's for sure. We tried to make it work. For different reasons it didn't quite work for us. I like Mike as a guy. He's disciplined and dedicated to the game and his job. It just didn't quite fit here."
Cleveland has never been a premium free-agent destination, but it's not the worst option for Gasol. He'd get plenty of touches on the block, he'd have a good defensive player in Varejao next to him, and the Cavs would probably be a solid playoff team with Kyrie Irving and Deng as the franchise pillars. This probably wouldn't be Cleveland or Gasol's first choice, but it seems like a possibility.
The Washington Wizards will have the cap space to make a splash this offseason, and addressing the frontcourt will almost certainly be the first priority.
If Marcin Gortat is lost in free agency, perhaps Gasol would be considered a viable option next to Nene. Both players have the ability to play out of either post, which might be what Gasol is looking for in a frontcourt partner.
With John Wall and Bradley Beal manning the backcourt, the Wizards should be one of the more attractive free-agent destinations next season for big guys. Gasol can no longer be a title contender's second-best player, but Washington has enough talent elsewhere to make him a worthy investment.
There would definitely be injury concerns with this team, but Washington offers a major market, an established star to play with in Wall, and potentially a bigger salary than most other teams interested in Gasol could offer. There's a lot to like here on both sides.
Let's not give up on the idea of the Lakers being able to trade Pau Gasol quite yet. If the Charlotte Bobcats want to upgrade in the frontcourt and make a playoff run, they have the means to acquire Gasol.
It all likely depends on the cost.
Charlotte should be very sheepish about forfeiting a future first-round pick of any sort for a rental on Gasol, but it's not entirely out of the question. The Bobcats already have an established low-post scorer in Al Jefferson, but Gasol could provide an extra offensive boost next to Jefferson and pace the Bobcats while he's resting.
To acquire Gasol, the Bobcats would likely need to move Ben Gordon's expiring deal ($13.2 million) and another expiring contract like Ramon Sessions ($5 million) to make it work for the Lakers financially. Charlotte is one of the only aspiring playoff teams with enough expiring contracts and a need in the frontcourt to mesh up with the Lakers in a deal, so perhaps it's not completely unreasonable.
It's hard to imagine Gasol staying long-term in Charlotte, but strange as it is to say it, the Bobcats are more competitive than the Lakers are right now. This would be an immediate upgrade for both the Bobcats and Gasol.