As the Los Angeles Lakers endure their second straight frustrating season, questions continue to get raised about the direction of the franchise. The moves the team makes leading up to the trade deadline and during the offseason should answer those questions.
The only thing that's clear right now is the current roster formula isn't going to work. There are too many veterans who are struggling to stay on the court consistently and not enough secondary production even when Pau Gasol is playing well or Kobe Bryant is healthy.
So changes are likely on the horizon as the Lakers try to get things back on the right track. What those moves will be is unknown, but let's check out some of the latest rumors making the rounds, which could give a glimpse into the team's plan of attack.
Gasol is currently sidelined with a groin injury. When healthy, he's been the Lakers' best player thanks to a bounce-back season that's seen him average 17 points and 10 rebounds. He would still represent a major addition for a contender if Los Angeles decides to move him.
The 33-year-old post player is no stranger to the trade market. So it's no surprise he's found himself in the rumor mill again with the Lakers struggling. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reports the Lakers have not closed the door on a deal with the Phoenix Suns:
Lakers do not believe talks with Phoenix for Gasol are over, I'm told. Expect talks with Suns and other teams to cont until 2/20 deadline— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 5, 2014
Ultimately, if the Lakers move Gasol, it signals a complete reshaping of the roster. He can still play at a high level, meaning Los Angeles would be best off keeping him if they want to expedite the turnaround. It sounds like they are keeping all options open for the time being.
Stephenson is a player who will be watched very closely in the coming months. Sean Deveney of Sporting News reports the Indiana Pacers are facing luxury-tax issues when it comes to re-signing the guard, and several teams are lurking should the Pacers be unable to lock him up to a new deal:
If the Pacers don't address the Stephenson problem, there will be wolves with cap space lurking. The Lakers, Bulls and Bobcats will be among the teams who can and would offer an ample payday and increased opportunity for Stephenson this summer.
Which team will Stephenson play for next season?
The Cincinnati product was a non-factor during his first two years in the league. Last season, he started to show glimpses of making serious strides in his development. He parlayed that into a breakout campaign in 2013-14, averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
As mentioned, the Lakers need to get younger while at the same time be able to add impact players. That's not an easy task, but at 23, Stephenson represents the best of both worlds. Of course, it's still difficult to imagine the Pacers letting him get away.
Gibson is an interesting case. There have been stretches throughout the 28-year-old forward's career when he's played like a very valuable asset. His four games so far in February are a good example of this, as he's averaged over 15 points with eight rebounds and nearly two blocks.
He hasn't been able to maintain that type of play over full seasons, though. That makes it difficult to determine his true trade value. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Lakers are among the teams to talk with the Chicago Bulls about him, but there was a gap in perceived value:
Now Taj Gibson's name is picking up steam. What the Bulls do with him could determine how serious they are in clearing salary-cap space for a max contract to land a player such as Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.
According to a source, the Lakers, Wizards and Bobcats have inquired about Gibson, but they were preliminary talks in which the Bulls didn't like the return.
While there's a lot to like about what Gibson could bring to Los Angeles, the Lakers certainly shouldn't go overboard to land him. If the asking price remains high, they would be better off waiting until the offseason to see what else is available on the market.