With 17 titles and 32 trips to the Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers have grown accustomed to being NBA title contenders.
But after a delay to the season, and a downturn in the economy since 2008, the Lakers have recently become cash-strapped with to the luxury tax hurting the club's bottom line. The Lakers need to bolster their roster, but upper-management is struggling to put together a trade that would both strengthen the club in the near and long term, while lowering the payroll.
A deal could be imminent as the Mar. 15 deadline approaches, and most of the rumors surround 31-year-old power forward Pau Gasol.
Here are the most notable deals that might happen by Thursday:
1) Gasol to Houston for three players and a draft pick According to Chris Broussard, of ESPN and formerly of the New York Times, reported that the Rockets are willing to deal the pieces of the failed Chris Paul deal to Los Angeles. The Lakers would give up Gasol, and receive Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, and a first-round pick to the Lakers. The Lakers would be slightly downgrading the power forward position in Scola, but would acquire a very good scorer in Martin, as well as an additional point guard, while getting younger with a draft pick and the three players in the process. Lakers general manager reportedly was interested in Kyle Lowry, but Houston is very reluctant to part ways with the point guard.
It's unclear if Kobe Bryant would be on board with losing Gasol, as the Spaniard has been a major reason the Lakers have made three trips to the Finals since Shaquille O'Neal demanded a trade to the Miami Heat. However, management didn't consult with Bryant when they hired head coach Mike Brown, so they may have little interest in his opinion on Gasol.
Meanwhile, the Rockets are in a tight battle for a higher seeding in the playoffs, or to even make the playoffs. Houston may not want to take a chance on a trade that would mean losing two of their three best scorers.
2) Gasol to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Michael Beasley and others It's no secret that the Wolves want to send Beasley packing. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com still has the Lakers as a suitor for Michael Beasley, who remains on the trade block.
The Lakers already turned down a deal that would have cost just a first-round pick for the former second overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. It was a financial decision, as Beasley's $6.2 million contract would have cost the Lakers a total of $12.4 million due to the luxury tax provisions.
But Los Angeles would be willing to accept a deal that included other players. Minnesota has already lost Ricky Rubio for the season, and are coming off a home loss to the lowly New Orleans Hornets on Saturday. The Timberwolves, who haven't made the postseason since 2004 and are competitive this season, might be inclined to make a deal with the season in the balance now that Rubio is out.
For a Gasol trade to work, Minnesota would need to include other players beyond Beasley for salary cap reasons. Rookie Derrick Williams and center Nikola Pekovic, two players who have shown a great deal of promise, would probably have to be part of the trade Minnesota's bench is already rather thin, and the Lakers would not be receiving a true power forward, or a much-needed point guard, in the possible deal.
Though the two sided have had discussions, this possible deal may not be either clubs' best interests.
3) Gasol for Josh Smith There have been no reports of the Lakers and Atlanta Hawks discussing a possible swap of power forwards, but Smith wants out of Atlanta, and Gasol has been dangled for so long that it might be inevitable that this deal takes place.
For salary cap reasons, the two clubs could throw in their point guards to make it work: Steve Blake and Kirk Hinrich. The Lakers would get younger with Smith and would trim some of their payroll with the deal. Meanwhile, the Hawks would probably stand a better chance of going deep in the playoffs, since Gasol has Finals experience.
4) Andrew Bynum and draft picks for Dwight Howard The Orlando Magic have yet to receive a better offer than arguably the second-best center in the NBA for the soon-to-be free agent Howard. What's apparently keeping Orlando from pulling off a deal is Howard's insistence to wait until the off-season to sign a contract. Howard likely doesn't want to go to a team that is gutted because they gave up players to acquire him.
Because of Howard's rent status in the 2011-2012 season, the Lakers would appear to be the most sensible destination. Orlando would receive Bynum and draft picks and lower their payroll, and the Lakers would find themselves in a better position to win a title this season.
The hold up for the Lakers appears to the fear that Howard won't re-sign, and the uptick in the payroll. Howard reportedly soured on a potential deal to Los Angeles, and the Magic probably aren't interested in giving the Lakers yet another superstar center after losing O'Neal in 1996.
The Magic may be setting themselves up for a disaster if they don't make a trade. The most recent rumor involving Howard was to Oklahoma City for James Harden and Serge Ibaka. That deal would need other pieces, but that may not matter.
The best deal for Orlando is to get a top-rated center like Bynum, or risk losing Howard and be left holdind the bag.