Why LA Lakers Have Never Found a Pau Gasol Trade They Like

J.M. Poulard@ShyneIVContributor IIJanuary 30, 2014

Pau Gasol
Pau GasolPhelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Pau Gasol has become an urban legend of sorts, destined to haunt the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Spaniard has routinely been involved in trade rumors, but the Purple and Gold simply have not been able to pull the trigger on a deal involving him. It’s a fascinating twist of fate because he was once upon a time one of the most coveted assets in the league.

Heck, one could argue he still is, provided he comes at the right price. Determining his true value has been a complicated task for a front office that saw Gasol rescue it from first-round playoff exits.

How did the Lakers get here?


Shockwaves Around the League

The Memphis Grizzlies were going nowhere fast. The season prior, they had won a mere 22 games and compensated Gasol like a star. The best players in the league do not allow their teams to dwell at the bottom of the standings, and yet, that’s exactly what happened.

Then again, Gasol only appeared in 59 games during the 2006-07 campaign, which could serve as a reasonable explanation for Memphis’ struggles. Fast-forward to 2007-08, and the Grizzlies had only secured 13 wins by the end of January.

Pau Gasol as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies
Pau Gasol as a member of the Memphis GrizzliesNikki Boertman/Associated Press

Management decided it had seen enough and traded away Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers for what was initially viewed as scrapheap. L.A. gave up the immortal Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010.

Many around the league hated the move because it altered the competitive balance in the Western Conference. Gregg Popovich offered his thoughts to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix:

What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I'd like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade.

With Gasol on board, the Lakers instantly became favorites to win the West and even potentially the title.


Ascension to the Mountaintop

From the moment Gasol arrived in Los Angeles, it seemed as though he was always destined to be a member of the Lakers organization.

He recognized his role as the second option on the team, and what’s more, he seemingly picked up the triangle offense with ease. Gasol and Lamar Odom played well in concert on their way to dismantling Western Conference foes.

Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom
Pau Gasol and Lamar OdomChris Pizzello/Associated Press

Once they reached the NBA Finals, the front line of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins proved to be a little too tough and intimidating. The label of soft was thrown at the feet of Gasol, and he has never really shaken it.

The Lakers were dispatched in six games by the Boston Celtics. The ensuing season saw the Lakers rebound and claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

During the run, Gasol bested a physical Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, and then, the Spaniard took Dwight Howard and Co. to school in the championship series.

Gasol posted averages of 18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds on 60 percent shooting from the floor in the NBA Finals. His 2009 performance ended up being a harbinger.

A year later, the Lakers faced the Celtics in a seven-game series for the league’s most prestigious team award. The Lake Show prevailed thanks in large part to Gasol’s 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds 3.7 assists per game on 47.8 percent field-goal shooting in the finals.

Gasol’s arrival in town resulted in the Lakers reclaiming top spot in the sport.


Pau Gasol’s Value

Kobe Bryant will certainly get the lion’s share of the credit for Phil Jackson’s last-two ring ceremonies, but Gasol was an integral part to the celebrations.

Thus, he means something to the Lakers franchise. The former Memphis Grizzly has produced on the court and accepted every public criticism Bryant has thrown his way.

For instance, Gasol was benched in the fourth quarter of a game, and Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA questioned Bryant on the topic, which prompted this response:

"Put your big-boy pants on," Bryant said after the Lakers' 113-103 loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday that dropped the team's record to 8-9. "Just adjust. Just adjust. You can't whine about it. You can't complain about it."

And yet, Gasol never challenged his teammate through the media. He took his lumps and kept things moving. In other words, Gasol is everything the Purple and Gold have wanted him to be alongside the face of the franchise.

On-court brothers: Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol
On-court brothers: Kobe Bryant and Pau GasolMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

It’s incredibly difficult to quantify that. Hence, it’s fair to say the Lakers value Gasol probably more than every other team in the league.

The best illustration of this is observed in his salary: Gasol’s cap figure ($19.3 million) is actually superior to LeBron James’ ($19.1 million). For the sake of context, James is a four-time league MVP and two-time Finals MVP.

The only time Los Angeles actually agreed to move on from Gasol was when the best point guard in basketball became available.

ESPN.com’s panel of experts ranked Chris Paul as the fourth-best player in the NBA prior to the start of 2011-12 campaign, and that’s what it took for Mitch Kupchak to agree to a deal involving Gasol.

Ultimately, David Stern vetoed the trade for basketball reasons, and Los Angeles has been holding on to Gasol ever since. Nonetheless, it seems quite apparent that management will only agree to move him for something resembling a top-10 player.

Interestingly enough, Gasol has always been the target in trade speculations. One might be inclined to believe this was the case because the Lakers initiated the talks, but in actuality, it’s likely a product of teams calling up and gauging his availability.

At his apex, Gasol’s offensive skill was only rivaled by Garnett. Naturally, teams came calling. The one big difference between Gasol and Garnett: The Lakers probably listened when teams made pitches before declining.


Diminishing Returns

Gasol has struggled as a Laker from the moment that Mike D’Antoni joined the franchise. He has mostly played out of position on the perimeter, which has led him to take a multitude of jumpers.

Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol rarely see eye to eye.
Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol rarely see eye to eye.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

An argument could be made that Gasol was the most devastating low-post scorer in the league under the tutelage of Jackson, but he has apparently regressed since L.A. brought in D’Antoni.

According to Basketball Reference, Gasol has converted 46.7 percent of his shots since the former New York Knicks coach came on board. Should those numbers hold up by season’s end, it will be the worst two-year stretch of shooting in the big man’s career.

Because Gasol has been in a funk of sorts since last season, it stands to reason that teams have presented unattractive offers for the services of Gasol. Thus, his name has appeared in multiple rumors, but L.A. has not wanted any part of those proposed swaps.

Gasol has had to deal with numerous stories floating around with respect to a potential relocation, and he expects it to continue with the trade deadline nearing. This is what he offered on the situation to ESPN LA’s Ramona Shelburne:

I don't really know how it really played out. I don't know the reason it didn't happen. I know probably that there will be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can't really worry about it. I just need to continue what I've been doing, which is come in and be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.

The Lakers have already announced that they feel quite strongly that Gasol is worth an elite player by including him in a trade proposal for Paul.

However, his struggles likely resulted in organizations offering borderline All-Stars instead, which probably made the Lakers’ front office gasp.

Until the Lakers find what they deem to be equal value for Gasol, he will stay put and perhaps even finish out the season.


The Future

The Lakers have not yet found a suitable deal for Gasol, but there might be one in the works.

Keep in mind, Kupchak concocted the trade for Paul prior to any visible decline in Gasol’s game. It was a brilliant move because the Lakers were selling high and receiving top-flight talent.

However, Gasol’s game has gone downhill since, and that has complicated the task of swapping him for something or someone that can help the team going forward.

That door is starting to open up once again, though. Gasol will be a free agent at season’s end and needs to play at a high level to secure his next big contract. Coincidentally, he has come out strong with the trade deadline roughly three weeks away.

In the month of January, the big man is posting 20.6 points, 12.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on 50.9 percent shooting. Forget All-Star, that is All-NBA production.

In turn, it could mean that Gasol’s days as a Laker are numbered. At some point, executives will realize that a skilled big man is a precious commodity, and they will bring their best offers to the table.

The Lakers are banking on it.

All stats are accurate as of January 29, 2014.


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