The Los Angeles Lakers continue to be front and center of trade rumors as the Mar. 15 deadline is almost a week away, with the club competing for a high seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Lakers are currently the fourth seed, but have gained ground on local rivals the Clippers. However, the Lakers have to hold off a competitive group of teams that are barely trailing them: the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, and the Denver Nuggets.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak recently called Pau Gasol, who has been at the heart of rumors in recent months, and spoke to him at length about the trade situation. Kupchak wouldn't let Gasol know if he was going to be traded, but the Spanish big man came away with a more clear situation.
It was kind of calming to have that feedback, Gasol said. Since before training camp, it was the first time I was approached by them.
The most clear destination for Gasol might be Houston. The Rockets were willing to part with Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and a draft pick, to get Gasol in the failed Chris Paul three-team trade. According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, the Rockets are willing to make the deal again.
Should the Lakers make that trade, they would reduce their payroll, which appears to be the club's priority considering some of the cost-cutting moves the team has made since the off-season.
Meanwhile, the Lakers want an upgrade at point guard, and there are reports that Houston won't give up Kyle Lowry, who is having a career year. The Lakers might consider taking some of the pieces of the Houston deal to upgrade the point guard position.
Martin averaged more than 23 points per game last season, and is averaging 18 this season. The Lakers have Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes at small forward, so Martin could be dealt for a quality point guard.
CSNNW.com recently cited sources that the Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers had exploratory talks about a deal for guard Raymond Felton, with Steve Blake involved in the trade. While Blake has shown improvement over last season, Felton has seen a considerable dip in his statistics.
The Blazers apparently would be dealing Felton with his stock at his lowest, and acquiring Blake, who previously played with the club in the 2009-2010 season, after a 17-point outburst against Portland on Feb. 20.
The most prominent player on the trade market is still Dwight Howard. The Orlando Magic big man's wish-list included the Lakers and Mavs, but the Nets emerged as the clear frontrunner.
A Magic deal with the Nets would certainly include Brook Lopez. A swap with the Lakers would certainly include Andrew Bynum, which perhaps poses the question: is Lopez a better option for the Magic than Bynum?
In Bynum, the Magic would be giving up the best center in the NBA for perhaps the second best. On the other hand, Lopez is now expected to miss three weeks with a sprained ankle. When healthy, Lopez failed to advance the Nets to the postseason.
If the Magic caved and decided to deal Howard to the Lakers it would require a commitment for the free-agent-to-be to stay beyond this year and Howard doesn't appear interested in doing that for any team.
According to Yahoo! Sports, Nets GM Billy King still hasn't had a substantive conversation with Magic GM Otis Smith. The Nets apparently believe they can sign Howard as a free agent, and have him play alongside Lopez, and with Deron Williams, who is also a free agent. If they are wrong, and Howard takes his talents somewhere else, it would be a disaster for the organization.
With Mar. 15 get closer, it will be interesting to see if the Magic put the Lakers back in the picture, or perhaps risk losing Howard for nothing.