As the injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers hobble to the finish line of the 2013-14 season, the organization needs to be exploring all angles to improve the roster moving forward.
The Lakers are poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season—when Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen showed exactly how important Phil Jackson was with their less-than-stellar coaching from the sidelines.
Kobe Bryant has played just six games due to injury, role players are dropping like flies and bright spots have been genuinely difficult to find.
As a result, the front office should already be considering offseason trades as a means of putting a playoff-caliber supporting cast around Bryant as his career winds to a close.
Only three players have guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season—Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre—so trade partners may not surface for the Lakers at all.
With that said, there are a couple of long shots LA could consider as they enter an offseason full of uncertainty.
Pau Gasol Sign-And-Trade
Pau Gasol’s days in a purple and gold uniform appear to be numbered. After winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, he’s been a mainstay in trade rumors while continually getting criticized by members of the fanbase.
Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding wrote recently that the veteran Spaniard will likely part ways with the storied LA franchise, and it’s hard to disagree with his logic.
This summer, Gasol will move on to some other NBA franchise where, along with his two championship rings, the fresh fans will respect all that is clearly good in him—much as Lakers fans saw generosity in his heart when Memphis Grizzlies fans only saw Gasol wasn’t selfish enough to prop up a team all by himself.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old needs a change of scenery to rejuvenate his professional career, and the Lakers need to get younger as they move forward with the aged tandem of Bryant and Nash.
While Gasol can conceivably sign anywhere he wants as an unrestricted free agent, the Lakers should consider possible sign-and-trade deals for the four-time All-Star.
LA will have plenty of cap space this summer. Due to that, the Lakers could sign Gasol and send him to his desired destination for spare parts in return.
This is essentially what happened when Nash became a free agent with the Phoenix Suns. Los Angeles didn’t have the cap space needed to sign him outright, so Phoenix signed the two-time MVP and sent him to Lakerland for a bounty of draft picks.
Granted, the Lakers are not going to get first-round picks for an aging Gasol, but they could get a role player or two as they look to fill out a 12-man roster.
Per the new CBA rules, however, LA could only complete a sign-and-trade with a suitor below the tax line—adding a wrinkle that makes any Gasol swap more difficult to pull off.
Go All-In for K-Love
Minnesota Timberwolves star power forward Kevin Love told GQ Magazine’s Steve Marsh, “People think it’s so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota. And I’m not s---ting on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I’m having fun.”
That sentiment is a stark contrast to what an Eastern Conference executive told CBS Sports’ Ken Berger in January: “No one thinks he’s staying. Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers.”
Also, according to ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required), an anonymous general manager said that Love joining the Lakers in 2015 as a free agent is “a 100 percent certainty.”
So even though K-Love has a tie to Los Angeles as a former UCLA student, should the Lakers bother wasting time getting the talented big man to California?
They may not have a choice, because T-Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has been adamant in his stance that Minny will not trade Love.
However, if there’s any inkling that the double-double machine wants out, the Timberwolves would have to get something in return for him via trade. The Lakers may not have the most assets to offer (putting it lightly), but there’s an outside chance they could acquire him prior to his impending free agency.
Grantland’s Bill Simmons spit-balled a potential Love/Lakers trade in a recent column, writing the following:
Only one scenario works: a three-teamer in which Memphis gets Pau Gasol (sign-and-trade to reunite the Gasol hermanos), Minnesota gets Zach Randolph (expires in 2015) and L.A.’s unprotected lottery picks in 2014 and 2017, and the Lakers get Love. That’s 80 cents on the dollar, especially if that Lakers pick falls in the 3-to-5 range.
Getting what could wind up being a top-five pick in the 2014 draft would have to appeal to Minnesota, especially if they think Love doesn’t want to stay with a mediocre supporting group long-term. However, the Lakers would have to draft a prospect first and then send him away via trade, because the Lakers can't trade their 2014 pick outright.
Would the Timberwolves ultimately send Love to LA for that type of deal?
I doubt it, but at least the Lakers have the opportunity to make a splash in 2014 and 2015 free agency, regardless. Of course, there's no guarantee that Love plans to sign with LA in 2015, so going all-in to trade for him and lock him up beforehand would take away that variable.
The Lakers have hit home runs in free agency in the past, and unless they pull off a miracle trade, they'll have to do so yet again to give "The Black Mamba" another shot at a title.