Does Pau Gasol's Injury Kill Lakers Chances of Trading Him Before 2014 Deadline?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 31: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands in observance of the national anthem before a game against the Charlotte Bobcats at STAPLES Center on January 31, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns were the Los Angeles Lakers' best chance of moving Pau Gasol before the 2014 trade deadline, but things aren't looking too good on that front. 

Under the conditions of the proposed deal, the Suns would've been sending one of their many first-round picks and the expiring contract of Emeka Okafor to L.A. in exchange for the services of the Spanish 7-footer. However, there was some disagreement over which of Phoenix's picks would be included. 

After all, they have four: 

  1. From the Minnesota Timberwolves, protected for selection Nos. 1-13
  2. From the Washington Wizards, protected for selection Nos. 1-12
  3. Their own
  4. From the Indiana Pacers, lottery protected

The Lakers wanted one of the first two, as they'd be the most valuable. The Suns presumably want to give up the selection from the Indiana Pacers. 

And that's a problem. 

According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times"Phoenix could own four picks in the June draft, and the Lakers coveted one of the more valuable two—the pick the Suns could potentially get from Minnesota or the one they might receive from Washington."

That's why the deal—at least in its current form—fell apart, though ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reports hope is still alive on the Lakers front: 

But without Gasol on the court, it'll be awfully hard for L.A. to squeeze anything more out of the Suns or find a new partner willing to pay them a hefty ransom for the Spaniard. A strained groin has knocked the big man out of the lineup for at least two weeks, and it may also have knocked Gasol off the list of players who will be traded before the Feb. 20 deadline. 

There are two main reasons: timing and concerns about the future. 

Mark Medina explains the former issue for the Los Angeles Daily News on 

The Lakers haven’t currently set a date on when they will reevaluate Gasol.. But according to the Lakers’ latest timetable, Gasol will miss at least six more games, including next week’s homestand against Chicago (Feb. 9), Utah (Feb. 11) and Oklahoma City (Feb. 13). Gasol’s won’t return until after NBA All-Star weekend Feb. 14-16, perhaps as early as Feb. 19 when the Lakers host the Houston Rockets at Staples Center. That marks one day before the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 20, a notable development considering Gasol’s uncertain standing with the Lakers.

The best-case scenario involves Gasol meeting the recovery timetable and taking the court against his former teammate, Dwight Howard, and the rest of the Houston Rockets. If that's what unfolds, he'll have one game—potentially with a minutes restriction—to prove his value before the clock strikes midnight on a deal. 

Well, technically it'll strike 3 p.m. EST, because that's when the trade deadline officially occurs on Feb. 20. 

But the point still stands.

"I will work hard to be back with the team as soon as possible," Gasol posted on Instagram along with a shot of his treatment that might scare those with trypanophobia. But "as soon as possible" isn't very soon. 

Gasol might have one limited game to show he's fully recovered. He might have none. And neither works for the Suns. 

Jan 15, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) handles the ball against the Phoenix Suns forward Miles Plumlee (22) in the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

ESPN's Shelburne and Marc Stein reported "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." 

Problem is, they're not going to have much time to do so. How can they see the full extent of Gasol's recovery if he isn't going to be fully recovered before the trade deadline? Last I checked, it seemed like the big man would be back to 100 percent after Feb. 20, which coincidentally is also after NBA trades can be made. 


Phoenix isn't being unreasonable, though. Think about the team's primary motivation for potentially making this trade. 

General manager Ryan McDonough isn't hoping to acquire a player with long-term upside, nor is he looking for a guy who can make an impact when the playoffs are rolling around. This is all about shoring up a weakness—post scoring—and ensuring Phoenix can survive the difficult gauntlet that is the Western Conference and actually advance past the final game of the regular season. 

The Suns have been bucking the odds all season long, and they currently sit at No. 6 in the Western Conference standings with a 29-19 record. However, they're anything but safe. 

The Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies are all trailing them by 2.5 games or fewer, and the Dubs and Grizzlies are particularly threatening. Golden State is still trying to put all of its healthy pieces together, and the return of Marc Gasol has made Memphis one of those teams no one wants to face. 

But it doesn't stop there. The West is just too strong. 

Five games back are the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets, both of whom have the desire and pieces to make a run at a postseason spot. Over half a season, that's a gap that can be closed with ease. 

With five challengers coming for their postseason bid, the Suns are understandably looking to make an upgrade for this season, which is why they must be sure Gasol is healthy enough to contribute immediately if they do swing a deal. But they must also be sure about his long-term ability to contribute, because they're still looking toward the future. 

And that's the second concern.

Hopefully the Suns know they aren't capable of winning a title during the 2013-14 season. Barring a complete return to health by Eric Bledsoe and a shocking trade that somehow lands the team Paul George, Kevin Durant or LeBron James, they have too many superior teams to dethrone in consecutive fashion when the postseason rolls around.

Dec 20, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

They'd like to be in the playoffs, but it's tough to imagine this team doing anything more than winning a single round. The goal of trading for Gasol would be upgrading from a No. 8 team serving as sacrificial fodder to a No. 4 or 5 seed that could take down a first-round opponent.

It's still about the future, a future that's bright due to the presence of Goran Dragic, Bledsoe (who will be re-signed no matter the cost), Miles Plumlee and the multitude of draft picks. Gasol has to fit into that future, which is why concerns about his long-term status must be alleviated.

Ideally, he's healthy enough that he proves he's a good fit in the system and decides to re-sign with the team for pennies on the dollar during the 2014 offseason. And for that to happen, he can't show any ill effects from a lingering hamstring injury.

Gasol is 33 years old, after all. It's naturally harder for his body to recover from any injury, and there's potential for him to do more damage to his groin at any point in the near future. 

There already should've been concerns about his declining state—on defense more so than offense—and the intensity of those concerns has only been ramped up by recent developments. 

Now it's worth noting I've been focusing primarily on a deal with the Suns, as that's been the leading source of rumors in recent days. A Gasol trade is by no means limited to the desert-based organization, as plenty of other teams could insert themselves in the sweepstakes for his services. 

However, the same concerns are going to exist across the board. 

A 33-year-old big man isn't going to be acquired for his long-term benefits, particularly because he'll be a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. There will be concerns about his health no matter what team he's rumored to be going to, and some might still worry about the future. A future that goes beyond this season. 

The Suns have reason to be worried about both situations, but so too does everyone else. 

Gasol's injury may have been a relatively minor one, at least in the grand scheme of NBA maladies. But the timing of it seems to defy any impending trade from becoming a reality. 


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