With the deadline approaching, Pau Gasol is still waiting to be traded.
It’s become something of a head-scratcher. Paul Gasol, one of the biggest pieces on the NBA trade market, in physical stature if no longer in ability, has yet to find a new home.
The center's case is a curious one. At 33, he’s an elder statesman who's declined in every area but "games missed with injury" in recent seasons, but he’s coming off a gangbusters January that quieted doubts about his ability to contribute going forward.
Meanwhile, his employer appears motivated to move on. The Lakers own the third-worst record in the Western Conference and, without a clear path to contention the next few years, have little apparent use for a veteran center with a $19 million price tag and an expiring contract.
But, alas, with the Feb. 20 trade deadline inching closer, Gasol is still in purple and gold. Here’s a stab at five not-so-obvious reasons why the four-time All-Star remains in limbo.
Mitch Kupchak is willing to deal his center, but only if the price is right. Which is to say: high.
If the reports are to be taken at face value, the fact Gasol hasn’t been traded isn’t for a lack of interest in the 7-footer.
The Lakers are simply demanding a ton in return.
According to an anonymous source who spoke with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, the Phoenix Suns, Gasol’s most serious suitor, have put the brakes on trade talks because Mitch Kupchak's asking price is too rich for their blood.
From the sound of things, it might be too rich for anyone's.
The Suns could have as many as four first-round picks in June’s loaded draft: their own, which, as of Feb. 9, projects as No. 23, the Indiana Pacers' pick (currently No. 30) and the Minnesota Timberwolves' and Washington Wizards' selections, which are top-13 and top-12 protected.
Bresnahan's source maintains the Lakers want either the Minnesota or Washington selection in return for their center. A pick from the back end of the round simply won't do.
In a league that's suddenly wise to the value of first round picks, this is quite an ask. After long treating No. 1s as an afterthought in many deals, a sweetner thrown in at the last minute to soften the resistance of a trade partner, NBA front offices now view them, properly, as the uber-valuable assets they are.
"Talent is talent" Mark Deeks wrote on SBNation in November, outlining the trend, "but cheap, young talent is the best type of talent."
If the Lakers aren't merely posturing here, any team interested in Gasol, a talent who's neither cheap nor young, would have to pay a sky-high price. It might prove prohibitive.
After two injury-plagued seasons, and a lot of time in street clothes, Gasol tweaked his groin recently.
It’s one thing to mortgage the future for a 33-year-old who’s played nearly a thousand regular and postseason NBA games, plus a plenitude of additional minutes in international competition. It’s something else entirely to do it for the guy when he's posting pictures like this.
On Feb. 4, Gasol Instagrammed a photo of himself receiving a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection in the wonky groin that’s held him out of action since Jan. 31.
The procedure involves removing blood from the patient, running it through a centrifuge to increase the concentration of platelets, then reinjecting it at the site of the injury to speed up the healing process. (Fun!)
While PRP has become commonplace for athletes (Kobe's been on the receiving end of similar treatment), the sight could be discouraging to teams who are kicking the tires on Gasol, especially in light of his recent injury history.
Dogged by plantar fasciitis and tendinitis in both knees, Gasol played in just 49 and 65 games the previous two seasons and now looks to be out until the All-Star break with his most recent malady.
Considering this alongside his age and the Lakers' asking price, prospective buyers are, rightly, proceeding with caution.
Gasol elevated his game in January after a dismal start to the season.
Can Pau Gasol still play at a championship level? It's a simple question without a correspondingly simple answer, and it's complicating any deal for the center.
The Spaniard has been trending downward in recent seasons. His win shares per 48 minutes have declined in each of the past four years (from .232 in 2010-11 to .082 in 2013-14), and his true shooting percentage has similarly shrunk from a peak of 61.7 in 2008-09 to 51.2
Gasol hit a new nadir this year, when he struggled mightily out of the gate. But after a November that saw him average 14.9 points on a shabby 46.3 true shooting percentage and a December that wasn't much better, the center improbably got his groove back last month.
The renascent big posted a 20.8 point/11.9 rebound/3.9 assist line in January and, after relocating his Midas touch from mid-range, broke 50 percent shooting for only the second month since March 2012.
If prorated over a full season, his January would put him in the top four among centers in scoring, rebounding and assists. This level of play, if Gasol can maintain it, represents tremendous value.
Of course, that’s a rather large “if.”
If Pau joins another franchise at the deadline, it might not be for long. He's suggested he has interest in returning to Memphis this summer to team up with brother Marc.
Even if a team isn’t put off by Gasol’s injury history, his uneven play these last few seasons or the Lakers' astronomical asking price, there’s still this to consider: he could be a just a rental.
Gasol’s contract expires at season's end. And while negotiating long-term deals with 33-year-olds is, in itself, complicated business, there are also indications the center wants to test the market. Specifically, he might be eyeballing a return to Memphis.
"It’s appealing. One of the best centers in the NBA, one of the best interior players, is my brother," Gasol said in December, according to Scott Cooper of NBA.com. "There’s a lot of attractive factors there. But who knows if that’s even a possibility or if that will ever happen."
A return to the Grizzlies makes obvious sense for Gasol. It allows him to play in the city where he began his professional career, for a team that figures to be competitive in the next few seasons and alongside his brother.
But with this possibility looming, it’s not clear if a deal for Gasol makes sense for another contender.
The Lakers might think a Kobe-Gasol tandem could wreak havoc, or at least sell tickets.
In Laker Land, it always comes back to Kobe.
But while it’s tempting to chalk Bryant's two-year, $48.5-million extension to simple, myopic nostalgia—to the Lakers' desire to give its franchise player, in the words of ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz, "the most glorious and expensive farewell tour in NBA history"—something else might be afoot in Staples Center.
The organization may believe, however misguidedly, that its veteran core has another run left in it.
The thinking might go something like this. Sign Gasol to a team-friendly deal, then pair him with a healthy Kobe, a few thoughtful (and thoughtfully priced) free-agent additions, and if the lottery balls break right, a stud from the top of the 2014 draft.
In this scenario, the Lakers have a team that can, if not compete for titles, credibly compete for the attention of Angelino hoop heads. It’s not a perfect outcome, but it might be the least bad option for a franchise that's found itself in an unfamiliar place: the bottom of the standings.