Trading Pau Gasol is going to be difficult on multiple levels.
Emotionally, it's going to be hard for the Los Angeles Lakers to part with Gasol after he helped hang a few championship banners. There's an attachment there, even if it's in the best interest of both parties to separate at this point.
Logistically, it's going to be tough to find a team that's interested in Gasol that can give back solely expiring deals and an asset like a draft pick. Gasol's salary worth $19.3 million is about as massive as they come.
Realistically, Gasol might need to get on the floor again before a team forfeits an asset for a rental of damaged goods. Gasol is reportedly sidelined for the next two weeks with a groin injury, and the trade deadline is just 16 days away.
There are quite a few hurdles for the Lakers to overcome to trade Gasol, but here are five trade packages that might fit get the job done.
Phoenix Suns Receive: PF/C Pau Gasol
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: C Emeka Okafor and a 2014 first-round draft pick (via Indiana Pacers)
We'll start with the latest rumored destination for Gasol, via ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
Sources told ESPN.com that, while there is substantive interest on both sides, it's believed Suns officials want to see how Gasol recovers from a strained groin before deciding whether to take talks to the next level.
Gasol's injury could kill this deal, but perhaps it will lower the Lakers' asking price a bit instead. If the Lakers are willing to accept what is certain to be a pick at the very end of the first round in this year's draft, perhaps the Suns would be willing to take a chance on Gasol's health in advance of a playoff run.
The financial incentive for the Lakers to trade for Okafor is probably the biggest aspect of this deal, anyway. Okafor can have 80 percent of his remaining contract covered by insurance, and the Lakers can come within roughly $3 million of getting out of the luxury tax this season by doing this trade.
The chance to get out of the tax could provide future financial flexibility as well as plenty of savings in the meantime. If the Lakers plan on renouncing the rights to Gasol this offseason anyhow, picking up an asset, helping the tanking effort and saving a ton in salary payment isn't a bad idea at all.
Charlotte Bobcats Receive: PF/C Pau Gasol, PG Jordan Farmar
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: SG Ben Gordon, PG Ramon Sessions and a 2015 first-round pick.
While this deal wouldn't offer the Lakers anywhere close to the savings a trade for Okafor would (or the previously rumored deal for Andrew Bynum), the quality of the first-round pick would likely increase quite a bit.
The Bobcats have the first-round picks of the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers to offer up this year, as well as a full stock of their own future picks beyond this season. The Pistons pick would be the most logical target, but Charlotte would almost certainly balk at that for an expiring contract.
Even if it ended up being a pick down the road though, that's something the Lakers need for flexibility purposes in trades. As it stands right now, the Lakers can't trade a first-round pick until 2019 because of the Stepien Rule. Acquiring a future first-round choice would free up some options.
While this would be nothing more than a swap of expiring deals and a thrown in draft pick, it would open up doors for the Lakers later on that are currently shut.
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: PF/C Pau Gasol
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: C Anderson Varejao, SF Earl Clark, SF Alonzo Gee and a 2015 first-round pick (via Memphis).
We can assume the Cleveland Cavaliers had interest in Gasol at least on some level based on the Andrew Bynum talks earlier this season. The Cavs opted to go with Luol Deng instead, but the wins aren't coming in and the jobs of GM Chris Grant and head coach Mike Brown might be in jeopardy.
It's likely a stretch that the Cavs would give up a first-round pick for Gasol, but desperate times call for desperate measures. If nothing else, Cleveland would be out of Varejao's deal next year and would have even more cap space for a potentially huge offseason if Gasol and Deng both walked in free agency.
For the Lakers, this one is a bit different. Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee are both on essentially expiring deals (non-guaranteed next year), but Anderson Varejao has a partial-guarantee for $4 million. Paying that $4 million for Varejao would cut into the max cap space.
This is a little riskier than the other trades listed for that reason, which would make this more of a desperation deal than anything else. Varejao is a good player, but it's hard to see the Lakers taking on his full salary, which would exceed $10 million next year via a five percent trade kicker, or paying $4 million in dead salary. Cleveland might have to sweeten the pot, which seems unlikely given that Gasol isn't that much of an upgrade over Varejao in the first place.
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: PF/C Pau Gasol
Detroit Pistons Receive: SG Eric Gordon, C Greg Stiemsma, SF Wes Johnson
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: PF Charlie Villanueva, SG Rodney Stuckey and a 2016 first-round pick from Detroit.
The Pelicans have a logjam in their backcourt and almost no cap room in the near future, so dumping Eric Gordon's long-term deal on a team that desperately needs outside shooting like the Detroit Pistons makes for a good fit. The Pelicans would obtain Gasol's Bird Rights in this deal, which would allow them to go over the cap to re-sign him this offseason. Alternatively, New Orleans could let Gasol expire, take the cap savings and find a better frontcourt option in free agency.
The Lakers, meanwhile, swap Gasol for two expiring contracts in Villanueva and Stuckey while picking up a valuable future first-round pick in the process. The salary savings are minimal, but it's better than losing Gasol for nothing.
This is a big risk for the Pistons, but it's one general manager Joe Dumars might be willing to take on in the last year of his contract. Gordon can help solidify the perimeter defense and space the floor on the other end, and if he gets hurt or doesn't pan out, it will likely be someone else's problem going forward. This would be a gutsy move for a playoff push.
Chicago Bulls Receive: PF/C Pau Gasol
Boston Celtics Receive: PF Carlos Boozer, SF Mike Dunleavy, C Nazr Mohammed and the right to swap for the less favorable of Chicago's and Cleveland's 2015 first-round pick.
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: PF Kris Humphries, SG Keith Bogans, PG Avery Bradley
Rivalries and free-agency implications aside, this could work for all parties if each team could ignore they'd be helping one another out.
Instead of using the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer this offseason, the Bulls could save over $20 million in paid salary (not cap space) next year by doing this deal. Is that worth giving up the right to swap picks in 2015 with Cleveland? That's a tough decision, particularly if Chicago doesn't want to try and re-sign Gasol on the cheap.
Taking on the deals of Boozer and Dunleavy next year isn't a big issue for Boston, as the Celtics aren't projected to have much cap space or the desire to go after big free agents this offseason anyhow.
Boozer should have plenty of value as a large expiring contract next year, and perhaps he could aid in the effort to bring in another star next to Rajon Rondo via trade. Giving up Bradley hurts, but he'll likely command a fairly substantial long-term salary in restricted free agency that might not be ideal for a rebuilding team to take on.
For the Lakers, Humphries and Bogans are both on expiring deals. Instead of gunning for a pick like in all the other trade options, here the Lakers get a young, athletic defender in the backcourt with a qualifying offer cheap enough to retain max cap space (roughly $21 million in space) so long as the stretch provision is used on Steve Nash.
This would require some good timing on free-agent signings, but Bradley's restricted status would allow the Lakers to send out plenty of free-agent offers before having to match on any deal.