Almost six years to the date (February 1, 2008) of acquiring the seven-foot Spaniard from Memphis, rumors of the Phoenix Suns’ interest in Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol came flooding across everyone’s NBA notification app or Twitter timeline. Just as Super Bowl XLVIII was getting into full swing, and while many were reveling in each and every Bronco mishap, some of us were actively considering the potential of such a deal. Put simply, there are so many ways the Lakers and Suns could reach some sort of agreement for a Gasol swap, we found it difficult to find a reason why they wouldn’t be able to make a deal happen.
The “you never trade with a division rival” argument is both null and void when you think back to just the summer of 2012 when these teams linked up for what has now become quietly known as the “give me a ton of picks for Nash in a suit” trade. While many of us saw the deal as a no-brainer for both teams at the time, clearly, the Suns have gotten the better of that deal. With the Lakers currently possessing just their first-round pick from this upcoming draft and no picks in the 2015 NBA Draft (due to various deals), this could be a way for the now 16-31 Lakers to re-stock their cupboards, so to speak.
Gasol, no stranger to trade rumors, has already seen his name surface in reported discussions several times this season but certainly hasn’t shown any signs of distraction or slippage in his game. In fact, the four-time NBA All-Star actually appeared to be in the midst of a bounce-back run having averaged 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 51.0 percent from the field for the month of January just prior to going out with a right groin strain.
The vaunted Phoenix medical and training staffs are another reason a deal for the two-time NBA champion could also make sense. Although expected to miss a week due to the strain, the Suns training staff has really distanced themselves from much of the league as the most successful at maintaining the health of aging and even injury-prone players. While Gasol certainly wouldn’t be classified as “injury-prone,” his productivity does seem to be directly connected to his overall health and well-being often times.
Although Miles Plumlee has played well for the surprising 28-19 Suns, both he and first-round pick Alex Len would certainly benefit as a result of the lessons they could learn from the 13-year veteran. While Gasol has understandably lost a step and much of his lift on the defensive end, his post footwork is still some of the league’s best, and he remains one of the more willing and better passing big men in the NBA. Even though Phoenix has overwhelmed teams with waves of pressure and energy with Coach Hornacek’s impressive uptempo offense, this (current) sixth-seed has to see the potential benefits of being able to lean upon a multi-faceted player like Gasol in their halfcourt sets once the games and pace naturally slow down and intensify during the playoffs.
While ESPN.com’s Marc Stein did an excellent job of breaking down the potential financial advantages of a hypothetical Emeka Okafor for Gasol deal, the Lakers can also address their lack of draft picks at the same time. Beyond the fact that a player-for-player swap would place the Lakers just shy of $3 million away from being completely out of the NBA’s luxury tax, they could conceivably also target one of Phoenix’s potential four first-round picks in the upcoming draft.
Coupled with their own (soon-to-be lottery pick), if the Lakers were able to also receive either Minnesota’s (1-13 protected) or Washington’s (1-12 protected) picks via Phoenix as well, they could really be back in business a lot sooner than many would expect. Even if Phoenix were to offer what we can presume will be a late-first that would have belonged to the Pacers, a deal could seemingly be made; but given the immediate impact and return of adding Gasol, the Lakers’ front office would likely push for one of their earlier picks. A returning Kobe Bryant armed with a lottery pick and another highly-skilled mid-first rounder would likely appear more attractive to any free agents they intend to target this July. Okafor, expected to return from a herniated disc at some point following the All Star break, also has an expiring ($14.5 million) contract that would come off the Lakers’ books at season’s end.
Having seen negotiations of this nature swing either way so many times in the past, we are reminded that talks of this nature are far more commonplace than are ever reported. That said, with the February 20 Trade Deadline approaching, this could be a story to keep an eye on in the coming days.