Emeka Okafor and Pau Gasol could be the centerpieces of a blockbuster NBA trade at the 2014 deadline.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, among the options being weighed as part of their well-chronicled desire to acquire an established player as they make an unexpected playoff push this season, have been exploring the feasibility of trading for the Lakers' four-time All-Star.
Stein goes on to explain how this fantasy in the desert could become a reality for both franchises:
One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor's $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol's $19.3 million.
In theory, the trade makes sense for both parties, but unfortunately for L.A., recent events have shut down communication between the two sides.
According to Mike Bresnahan of LATimes.com, the Suns have put a halt on discussions surrounding Gasol. The fact that the 33-year-old is out for two weeks, per Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, doesn't help, but as Bresnahan reports, it's L.A.'s asking price that is the bigger issue.
What is a fair trade for the Lakers?
If you remember back to earlier this season, L.A. was in a similar stalemate with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Before the Cavs bid adieu to Bynum's contract, in exchange for Luol Deng, Cleveland engaged in discussions with the Lakers surrounding Gasol.
The Cavaliers needed to swap their center and his contract for someone who could be productive in the playoffs, and despite Gasol's recent tendency to get hurt, he fit the bill.
As it turned out, the Lakers were asking for more than just cap flexibility in return. According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, general manager Mitch Kupchak wanted assets included in the deal—assets that Chris Grant, the Cavaliers GM, wasn't going to part with.
The Cavs weren't willing to budge, but that's where the Suns could ultimately differ.
Despite the report from Bresnahan, Phoenix has a plethora of first-round picks it could include with Okafor's contract. The 2014 class is being touted as one of the best in a long time, and while the Suns are in great position to make a splash in the draft, they're far more interested in being players right now.
"Our preference would probably be to maybe package a few of [the picks]," Suns GM Ryan McDonough said back in December, per Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com. "We’re obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available."
Gasol is hardly the star that he was when the Lakers first acquired him, but his recent production proves he's not done yet. During the month of January, the seven-footer averaged 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game while shooting 51 percent from the field.
It's easy to see why the Suns would want those numbers along with his expiring contract, but that brings us to the question: Why would the Lakers part with their long-time power forward after so many years of turning down offers?
We know from the onset of the discussion that Phoenix's package would surround Okafor's expiring contract. What's important to note, however, is that 80 percent of that deal will be covered by insurance because the big man missed the Suns' first 41 games.
That's a huge chunk of change the Lakers won't have to worry about, and it goes without saying that any move away from the luxury tax is a good move for L.A.
The other thing to remember is that the Suns, despite Bresnahan's report, are willing to part with their picks. If Los Angeles can pry a first-rounder away from Phoenix, it makes missing out on the Bynum deal well worth it.
In theory, the Lakers would get 1 of 4 picks from Suns - their own, Wiz, Minny or Pacers - best case is Wizards worst is probably Indy— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) February 3, 2014
The only downside to the Lakers pulling off a deal of this magnitude is that they must do something they're very uncomfortable doing. They must concede that the year is finished; although, in reality, that concession might help fans get past what's left of the 2013-14 campaign.
Gasol has been the subject of rumors for years, and quite frankly, it's time to rip the band-aid. The seven-footer's stint in L.A. is all but finished, and cashing in on his expiring contract makes more sense than letting him walk in free agency.
Deals don't come around every day that help both teams involved, but as B/R's Dan Favale points out, this is one of them.
"Most Gasol proposals have been one-sided, favoring the Lakers who have a tendency to overvalue their 7-footer," Favale said. "There are no losers in this purported scenario, no team being unjustly or stupidly fleeced of valuable assets."
Saying goodbye is never easy, but if the Lakers are smart, they'll do just that to Gasol. It's up to them to make the first real move toward the future, and pulling off a deadline deal with the Suns is the quickest way to expedite the process.