Finally, a Pau Gasol trade rumor that makes sense.
Over the years, the Los Angeles Lakers big man has been linked to some humdingers, each scenario as confusing, unlikely and susceptible to former commissioner David Stern's wrath as the next.
But for the first time in two-plus years, the Lakers have found an avenue worth exploring.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, among the options being weighed as part of their well-chronicled desire to acquire an established player as they make an unexpected playoff push this season, have been exploring the feasibility of trading for the Lakers' four-time All-Star.
One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor's $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol's $19.3 million.
The Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan confirmed Stein's report, which is the first piece of Gasol-related scuttlebutt worth a second look.
Most Gasol proposals have been one-sided, favoring the Lakers who have a tendency to overvalue their 7-footer, or an interested team attempting to capitalize off Los Angeles' seeming desperation.
There are no losers in this purported scenario, no team being unjustly or stupidly fleeced of valuable assets.
There are only winners.
Sunny In Los Angeles
Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
For nearly three years, the Lakers have seesawed between trading Gasol and keeping him. Though he's been linked to numerous trade rumors, each negotiation has proved abortive, the result of Los Angeles overvaluing him or Stern deciding Chris Paul wouldn't look good in a Lakers uniform.
This time, the Lakers have found the right trade partner able and willing to strike the best deal.
Any package Phoenix offers will be built around Emeka Okafor's expiring contract. Stein says the Lakers remain adamant about not dealing Gasol for cap relief alone, but 80 percent of Okafor's remaining salary became covered by insurance after he failed to appear in Phoenix's first 41 games.
For a Lakers team spending $79-plus million on the second-worst Western Conference team, that's beyond huge.
The Suns can also offer the Lakers more than just cap relief. Per RealGM.com, general manager Ryan McDonough and co. could have up to four first-rounders in this year's draft, and they're all but guaranteed three.
|Phoenix's 2014 First-Rounders|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Top 13|
|Washington Wizards||Top 12|
Washington's and Indiana's are as good as Phoenix's with the way the Eastern Conference is shaking out. Minnesota's isn't out of play, either. The 'Wolves are outside the West's playoff picture, but they're still good. They rank in the top 10 of offensive efficiency and just outside that in defensive efficiency, yet could still finish in the lottery. And if they do, there's a possibility they wind up with the 14th selection.
Point is, the Suns have draft picks to spare. They're past the point of needing three or four selections in one draft. That ship sailed when they entered the playoff conversation.
Of course, they could refuse to fork over a first-rounder for what may be a three-month rental, but a win-win situation is predicated on them not being so frugal. The Lakers aren't going to dump Gasol for financial purposes alone.
Were general manager Mitch Kupchak open to such a thing, he would have pulled the trigger on a rumored Andrew Bynum deal in January that saved Los Angeles more money. That makes the inclusion of a first-round pick essential.
Stockpiling assets in favor of immediate talent like Gasol puts the Lakers in tank mode, and that's fine. This season is lost anyway. These Lakers aren't going to erase a 10.5-game deficit in time to clinch a playoff berth. That's just not going to happen.
Likewise, Gasol is gone after this season. He's not going to return at a steep discount to play for a team that's consistently dangling him in trade proposals, and he most certainly won't accept pennies on the dollar when the Lakers are unlikely to be contenders next season.
Capitalizing off the inevitable is always a good thing, especially when it allows Los Angeles to make this season what it needs to be about—tanking with another first-rounder in hand while giving Kobe Bryant the opportunity to audition for free agents the Lakers plan to target this summer.
The Pleasantly Surprising Turned Legitimate
Watching the Suns, supposed tankers, was initially a guilty pleasure. Then the Suns happened.
They started Suns-ing around, stringing together convincing victories in a Western Conference where contenders litter the standings like cigarette butts do Mickey Rourke's front yard. At 29-18, they have the conference's fifth-best record despite the fact Eric Bledsoe has missed half the season.
Put simply, the Suns have been exciting. Thrilling. A real trip.
But they're not legitimate threats.
Phoenix is currently the team that will make the postseason, seem happy to be there and wave goodbye following a first-round exit. Adding Gasol to an already-strong roster makes it better, a real threat to do some postseason damage.
Gasol, who is nursing a groin injury, averaged 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 51 percent shooting in January, numbers that would look pretty damn good in Phoenix, where he would actually be playing for something.
Concerns exist of course, mostly related to Gasol's price tag. Is he really worth a first-round draft pick? When he can leave in free agency this summer?
For some teams, absolutely not. For Phoenix, absolutely yes.
Again, the Suns are past the point of needing so many draft picks. Moreover, those draft picks aren't so valuable anymore. Theirs doesn't project to be in the lottery and the two (potential) ones that could—Washington and Minny—will culminate in nothing better than a top-13 selection.
That Indiana pick is especially useless to them.
This year's draft class is considered top heavy, beefed up by potentially franchise-altering talents like Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Indiana's pick is going to come at the tail end of the first round, where the Suns are unlikely to find a significant game-changer.
Why not roll the dice on Gasol then? Sure, he can leave, but that's not exactly a bad thing.
Phoenix can acquire Gasol and own his bird rights without compromising its impending financial flexibility. It gets the best of both worlds—the chance to legitimately contend in a brutal Western Conference and ability to make serious free-agency splashes moving forward.
"We’re obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available," McDonough told NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper in December. "That’s kind of generally what we’ve wanted to do, not only with our draft-pick situation but also with the cap space that we’ve acquired.”
Gasol isn't a "star," but he's an impact player who can be had at a reasonable price, rendering the Suns a tougher playoff out. A dangerous contender.
A genuine threat.
*Salary information courtesy of Shamsports.