The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have recently been involved in trade discussions. According to Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN, Pau Gasol is at the center of the talks.
The report states that both L.A. and Phoenix are interested in making a deal happen. For Phoenix, acquiring a big man would help them in their push towards the playoffs. Before the season started, the Suns were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA. However, they’re 29-18 and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The club has even thrived in the absence of an injured Eric Bledsoe, and they could be a real competitor by adding another solid contirbutor to the lineup.
The Lakers' motivation would, largely, be monetary. The organization realizes that at 16-31, they won’t make any type of postseason run in 2014. Kobe Bryant has missed almost the entire season, and it’s unknown when he’ll return from a knee injury. Gasol’s contract expires in the summer, but trading him in the right deal could help L.A. get under the luxury-tax threshold.
A potential deal involving Gasol would likely see Emeka Okafor headed to Southern California. The veteran hasn’t played this year and won’t return to the court, but his $14.5 million contract is up at season’s end. According to ESPN, a Gasol-for-Okafor swap would take the Lakers less than $3 million away from the luxury-tax threshold.
While the proposed deal would likely help both sides, each organization has reservations. The Suns want to make sure that Gasol is healthy before pulling the trigger on a trade for a 33-year-old with a history of nagging injuries. He’s currently battling a groin injury that’s expected to cost him three games. Gasol announced on Instagram that he underwent platelet therapy to speed along his recovery process, though the Lakers don’t consider the injury a serious one. He has played in 44 of the team’s 47 games, thus far.
With the trade deadline still more than two weeks away, the Lakers want to make sure they get the best possible deal for Gasol. Since getting just Okafor in return wouldn’t completely put them under the luxury-tax threshold, general manager Mitch Kupchak would probably prefer to acquire other assets, as well. The team could hold out for a draft pick or another young player, in addition to the center.
Kupchak may not be in a rush to deal Gasol. The Lakers are likely to lose the four-time All-Star for nothing in the offseason, but that’s probably in the organization’s best interest. Losing his contract will free up close to $20 million on the team’s payroll as the best free agency class of all time becomes available. Gasol has been mentioned in trade rumors throughout the year, and the Cleveland Cavaliers have also reportedly expressed interest in the two-time NBA champion.
Despite his minor injury, Gasol’s trade value might be higher than it has been in months. He was terrific in January, averaging 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 51 percent shooting from the field. Last year, Gasol missed 33 games and averaged a career-low in points.