A new day is dawning for the Los Angeles Lakers and Pau Gasol may very well be wearing a different uniform before the month is out. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Lakers have engaged the Phoenix Suns in trade talks to move Gasol for draft picks and injured center Emeka Okafor.
Gasol's style has never really meshed with head coach Mike D'Antoni's game plan, but he put up fantastic numbers in January: 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. His current streak of 10 games with at least 20 points is the longest of his career.
But his strong play has not translated into success on the court, as the Lakers are making history with their prolific losing. This presents an ideal sell-high opportunity for the streaking Gasol as he wallows his way through his 13th season.
Without a healthy Kobe Bryant, who is still recovering from a knee injury, the Lakers are punchless. Gasol can only do so much, and the offense often depends on the felicity of Nick Young and Jodie Meeks' long-range shooting.
While the Lakers do not require a complete rebuild, their roster does need renovation if they seek more postseason success for the 35-year-old Bryant.
And it's not just the Lakers who are eager to get trading, as ESPN's Marc Stein explained that the Suns are motivated to move Okafor as well:
The Suns are known to be shopping Okafor's contract aggressively in advance of the trade deadline as a means for whoever acquires the 31-year-old to potentially save more than $5 million in salary payouts thanks to the insurance coverage.
Bringing in Gasol would immediately add a veteran presence in the frontcourt to tutor second-year center Miles Plumlee and rookie Alex Len. He would also bring the savvy earned through two NBA titles.
In his nine-year career, Okafor has averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, so he brings experience and the potential for a nightly double-double with rim-protection to boot whenever he is able to take the court.
J. Michael of CSN Washington reported in late October that Okafor's herniated disk was more serious than first thought, and he has not taken the court this season. The Suns shipped Marcin Gortat to get Okafor and a Top-12 protected first-round pick in 2014.
The Suns have banked draft picks through a series of trades. According to Real GM, they not only have their own first-round pick in the 2014 draft, they have three more first-round selections from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers, though each pick is protected. They also have the Lakers' 2015 first-round pick.
Shipping Gasol would not only net the Lakers a draft pick, it would also provide flexibility for the offseason and could help the team make a play for Minnesota's double-double machine Kevin Love.
The proposed Gasol deal recalls the trade of Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum and a draft pick. The Lakers were involved in those talks which would have been a money-saving move, and offered the team a chance to get under the luxury-tax threshold.
If the Lakers want to get under that tax number this season, they have a lot of work to do before the deadline, as Stein outlined:
A trade for Okafor's expiring deal would not save the Lakers as much as a deal for Bynum would have, but it would come with undeniable financial benefits. The $4.8 million difference between Gasol's cap number and Okafor's would immediately drop the Lakers less than $3 million away from the league's luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the Feb. 20 trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.
With the team staring at a 16-31 record, it seems like as good a time as any to part with Pau and his sizable contract.
They will demand value in return, but the best plan of action is to surround Kobe with younger top-notch talent, and he pursues one last championship, and the Suns seem like willing partners.