Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pau Gasol Is Still On The Lakers, For Now

Pau Gasol is probably breathing yet another sigh of relief. The rumored Gasol for Andrew Bynum trade went from "done" to "well, hold on a minute" to "no deal" in a hurry. The Cavaliers apparently wouldn't relinquish a first round draft choice or a prospect, be it Dion Waiters or Sergey Karasev and talks quickly stopped. The surprising part of this being the Cavs traded not one, but three draft choices (and gave the Bulls the option to swap first round picks in 2015) for Luol Deng, who, like Gasol, is a rental.

This means Gasol remains a Laker and I'm quite certain the team will be looking to move him rather aggressively between now and the trade deadline on February 20th. As for who is a realistic trade partner, nobody really knows, as no new trade rumors have surfaced in the past few weeks. It doesn't help that the Bulls are apparently trying to move Carlos Boozer as well, so potential suitors looking for big man help would probably call Chicago first because Boozer somehow earns less than Gasol, while being under team control for another year. The market right now is not looking good for the Lakers, who seem inclined to move Gasol for a first rounder, something I think is good if it's in this year's draft, which is slated to be the deepest draft since the 2003 NBA draft.

There's always the alternative: the Lakers could keep Gasol for the remainder of the season. This, while great from an emotional point of view, does not help the Lakers rebuild at all, unless they managed to resign Gasol for cheap during the off season. Even then, the Lakers would be retaining a 34 year old power forward, who has had injury problems in the past few seasons and would likely be the subject of trade rumors yet again. This is less than desirable, especially when the free agent market could have big men like Greg Monroe and Chris Bosh available, not to mention the crown jewel of the class: Carmelo Anthony. Retaining Gasol also likely ensures a more competitive team for the rest of the season, which would hinder LA's desire to get into the Top-10 in this years' draft. While I would very much like Gasol to play the rest of his career with the team, I don't think it's smart to keep him, or to extend him, especially not if you can offload his remaining salary or gain a draft pick by trading him.

The reason why the Lakers could keep Gasol is Mitch Kupchak may be in denial about this team's ability. Kupchak, like most fans, is discouraged by the insane amount of injuries and, should the Lakers still be in the playoff hunt by February 20th, would likely retain Gasol and try to make one last playoff push once Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all return around this time. This would be foolish, of course. As much as I think a fully healthy Lakers squad could compete with the best of them, by the time they all come back, they will likely require some time to get back into their grooves and the Lakers will likely be enough games out of the playoffs to require near perfection, not to mention Bryant having to learn to play with all of his new teammates and vice versa.

It's not a good situation for the Lakers to be in and we can only hope Mitch handles it as well as past personnel moves he has made. In the meantime, let's enjoy Pau's remaining games as a member of the Lakers; it could come to an abrupt end within the next six weeks.