It's decision time for the Los Angeles Lakers. With nearly $30 million in cap space, the franchise is positioned to make some serious changes as it attempts to surround superstar Kobe Bryant with enough talent to make another championship run or two during the sunset of his career.
The first of Los Angeles' decisions is what to do with Pau Gasol.
The 33-year-old earned $19,285,850 last season and is in store for what should be a fairly substantial pay cut. Gasol remains productive, but that kind of money is probably no longer in the equation, especially if the Spaniard wants to play with a contender.
His best shot at a payday may entail re-signing with the Lakers, either to play with the team for another couple of years or as part of a sign-and-trade that would send him elsewhere.
One potential destination is the New York Knicks.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports:
One source close to the process told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is planning to make a determined attempt to try to recruit his former Los Angeles Lakerscenter Pau Gasol to replace the freshly traded Tyson Chandler alongside Anthony on the Knicks' front line, despite the fact New York is limited to offering Gasol less than $4 million for next season.
If he chose to sign elsewhere and wanted a salary anywhere close to the $19.3 million he made in L.A. last season, Gasol would need the Lakers to agree to a sign-and-trade. It is unclear whether they would be willing to do so, as they prioritize salary cap flexibility.
Chances are Gasol would scoff at an offer in the $4 million range, even if it were coming from old friend Phil Jackson.
The problem is that most contenders probably won't be in any better position to offer Gasol more than that, especially with teams like Chicago and Houston saving their money for Carmelo Anthony (or, down the road, Kevin Love).
So if Gasol wants both money and an opportunity to win, his best bet is convincing the Lakers that a sign-and-trade is in the team's best interest. That way, he'd get his lucrative contract while also going to a team that may not have the cap flexibility to make him a reasonable offer.
Selling all this to the Lakers might not be easy. As Shelburne points out, the organization is primarily interested in retaining cap space it could use on another superstar.
That said, the club's best chance at landing one may not be this summer anyway. It could be in 2015, when Love may be a free agent.
Back in March, Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding explained:
Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love,LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.
For the moment, let's assume LeBron James isn't going anywhere.
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Shelburne reported the following:
After agreeing to all opt out of their contracts together, Miami Heat stars LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have been discussing financial terms of new contracts among each other, sources told ESPN.com.
Importantly, they add: "The talks between the three players is the strongest indication yet that James plans to re-sign with the Heat after he becomes a free agent on Tuesday."
Of course, there remains a chance that a team like the Lakers could change James' mind, but the odds appear to suggest otherwise at the moment.
The Lakers could also make a run at Anthony this summer, but it's awfully hard to imagine the ball-dominating forward meshing particularly well with Bryant.
While there are indications Los Angeles plans to be aggressive this summer, the reality may look far more mundane. In that event, Ding's claim that the Lakers will do most of their spending in 2015 sounds about right.
What does all this mean for a sign-and-trade?
Put simply, the Lakers could afford to take back a short-term contract in any deal for Gasol. Amar'e Stoudemire, for example, has just one year remaining on his deal, meaning Los Angeles could acquire him without jeopardizing its ability to be a major player in the free-agent market next summer.
In and of itself, landing someone like Stoudemire might not sound like an improvement over keeping Gasol.
But much depends on the details of a proposed deal. If the Lakers can convince another team to sweeten things up with draft picks and/or a young prospect, that's something they'd have to consider. As the franchise looks to get younger and build upon the selection of Julius Randle in this summer's draft, every little bit helps.
Los Angeles has to walk a fine line. On the one hand, it cannot afford to risk the cap flexibility it's worked so hard to preserve. On the other, it has to do what it can to collect cheap assets in the meantime. Those assets could materialize into in-house talent, or they could be used to make further moves down the road.
At the moment, the organization has precious little in the way of such assets.
Dealing Gasol could change that.
And in any event, getting something in return for Gasol would be better than losing him for nothing. The organization could give Gasol good money—something in the range of $10 million a season—and it could get something out of it without sacrificing long-term cap space.
It bears mentioning that he could also wind up back in Los Angeles. Shelburne notes that Gasol, "would give strong consideration to re-signing with the team, according to sources with knowledge of the situation."
But while counting out a return may be premature, the Lakers probably shouldn't extend anything more than a one-year offer to the big man—especially if they want to be players in the summer of 2015. Given that Gasol will almost certainly seek a deal that's at least two or three years in length, he no longer seems like a fit for this franchise.
He will be a solid fit somewhere, though. And the Lakers just might help him get there.