The question, of course, is: What do the Lakers hope to accomplish? The strategy will change depending on whether they want to be competitive or
tank begin building toward the future, and getting everyone on the same page is an important first step.
Opinions may differ within the organization, but everyone has the team’s best interest in mind. It’s impossible to make everyone happy—fans included—but at this point, the only direction is up for this struggling franchise.
As much as the Lakers may not want to admit it, this has been a lost year. Expectations were low leaguewide entering the season, but the hype surrounding Kobe Bryant’s return sparked a sense of optimism following a disappointing 2012-13 campaign.
Through 53 games, the team is just 18-35. It’s tied for last out West with the Sacramento Kings, and if we’re being honest, L.A. is a strong candidate to finish 15th in the conference if current trends continue.
At this point, the Lakers are fighting for a spot in the lottery—not a spot in the playoffs. This team needs to forget about winning games and focus on the best moves for the long-term future.
The only players on the Lakers’ roster who don’t have expiring contracts (not including player or team options) are Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Nick Young has a player option, Kendall Marshall has a team option and everyone else is on a true expiring contract.
With the rest of the year being essentially worthless, virtually everyone on the roster is expendable, with Bryant being the only exception.
L.A.’s point guard shortage has ultimately flipped into a predictable surplus. Injuries forced free-agent signings, and as players have returned to the rotation, the team has established a plethora of productive players in the backcourt to dangle as trade bait.
Shifting to the frontcourt, Los Angeles has just as many pieces that could be attractive to teams across the league. Chris Kaman, despite never finding comfort this season, is a solid big man who could help any contender. Jordan Hill is a younger asset who is up for a contract next season, and if a team can snag him long term, it will acquire a ferocious rebounder who has been extremely productive in limited action.
Then there’s Pau Gasol. There’s no question the Lakers are sellers this season, and it goes without saying the biggest asset they have is their four-time All-Star.
Gasol’s contract, which is worth more than $19 million, could be tough to move, but there’s been interest across the Association up to this point. His recent injury somewhat negates his recent production, but his stock hasn’t completely dropped, as teams can look at his numbers after the New Year as evidence that he’s still got something left in the tank.
If the Lakers are able to move Gasol, which should be the No. 1 priority, they’ll have the chance to kill two birds with one stone. Not only will they have the opportunity to bring back a young asset or draft picks, but they’ll also shed salary, moving them further away from the dreaded luxury tax.
There’s one scenario out there that would be ideal for the Lakers, and it involves a one-time rival turned valued trade partner.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Phoenix Suns have expressed interest in Gasol, and the two sides have already spoken regarding the 7-footer. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Suns have put a halt to the discussions since the initial talks, but even Gasol himself recognizes that it’s still a possibility.
”Things are kind of quiet right now,” Gasol said recently, per a separate Bresnahan report. “But I think there’s something potential. But right now the offer would have to change a little to make it considerable.”
The offer Gasol is referring to was originally reported to include Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract—a contract that is 80 percent covered by insurance—in exchange for the big man. L.A. jumped the gun and asked for more assets in the process, and that ultimately scared general manager Ryan McDonough away from discussions.
If Phoenix is serious about swapping Okafor for Gasol, it will need to include one of its four first-round picks in the 2014 draft. It will take more convincing from GM Mitch Kupchak to get Phoenix to bite, but if he's smart, he'll attempt to do just that.
Gasol and the Lakers are no strangers to trade rumors, and both sides recognize that nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. Phoenix could ultimately back out, leaving L.A. with one fewer option at the deadline, but as B/R's Dan Favale points out, the trade is a win-win for both cities.
For years now, we’ve watch L.A. waffle back and forth on what to do with the Spaniard, and for years, we’ve settled on the idea that smoke doesn’t necessarily equal fire.
This time, however, the stars have aligned for a picture-perfect deal—a deal that would finally put the drama behind us, giving the Lakers a chance to make their first official move toward a brighter future.