This is the beautiful nature of the NBA, either dreams come true or they don’t and if they don’t you are the team that is pulling your team apart and starting over. There is something so gratifying about that, about admitting defeat and then doing something about it. So here we are, this burned earth of the Los Angeles Lakers. You have to wince to even watch them play. Conversely, the Phoenix Suns are bubbling over like a vintage bottle of champagne, the possibilities for their future appear endless. The two organizations, the Lakers and Suns, located 500 miles apart from each other, are as different from one another as night and day, they have not one thing in common except Steve Nash. And this. The Suns are going to the playoffs. They are scrambling now as they try to improve their positioning so they can win a first round series or even more, though that seems like a long shot. And yet despite their surprising record and playoff surety the fans in Phoenix have still not bought in. The Suns are currently 26th in home attendance.
The Lakers are 8th in home attendance but with a bleak opportunity to do more than win twelve more games this season. They are in money saving mode. Their grand (foolish) plan of one year contracts and marginal players has ended as most predicted it would, in failure. It makes sense then to explore the trading of the only marketable player the Lakers currently have under contract, the only player a team might want, the only player who could make the starting lineup of a playoff roster. But just because it is the easiest thing to do to trade Pau Gasol does not make it the right thing to do.
Scenario #1: The Lakers trade Pau for Emeka Okafor and a second round pick. Okafor is currently injured and may never play again with his herniated neck. Acquiring him costs the Lakers little to nothing. Because Okafor has been medically unable to play all season insurance pays most of his salary. Acquiring Okafor and dumping Gasol will save the Lakers money, nearly 5 million, yet it will hardly plug the money leak hole. As for the second round pick they would acquire, these players are tough to scout. A few second rounders make it in the NBA, most have careers in Europe. They lack quickness, explosiveness, skill or talent. Robert Sacre was a second round pick and he averages 4 points and 3 rebounds. Devin Ebanks was a second round pick and he is in the D-league. Phoenix wins this trade. They will get to fit Gasol into their system and he will provide playoff experience to a group of young players no one expected to excel. Gasol will be able to exhale. No more Mike D’antoni, he will probably play inspired. Also, the Suns will have Pau’s Bird rights meaning they have the rights to him as their own player if they choose to sign him as an unrestricted free agent and exceed the salary cap. Furthermore the Suns will be able to audition Gasol. Do they even want a big man? If not, there is no risk for three months of work. There is no downside for the Suns. They are giving away a player who more than likely cannot make a NBA roster. In return they get the best European player of his era.
Scenario #2: The Lakers trade Pau for Emeka Okafor and a first round pick. The Suns have made a series of trades in the last few seasons and have the draft picks to show for it. All are lottery protected. But the Pacers will not be in the lottery- the Suns have their pick. The Wizards should not be in the lottery- the Suns have their pick. So the Suns could package Okafor with the Pacers pick which will probably pick #29 or 30. Or they could package the Wizards pick which may be #18. That would get the deal done for the Lakers, ensuring them a pick in the top 5 the way things are going and also in the mid teens. Kawhi Leonard was #15. Nicola Vucevic was #16. Iman Shumper was #17. There is no downside for the Lakers, two picks in the top 20 in a draft that is supposed to have depth will begin their rebuilding campaign. As for the Suns, do they really need another young player? They are at the point in their team construction that their nucleus is set, they just have to support them with experienced players who understand playoff basketball.
Scenario #3: The Lakers trade Pau for Emeka Okafor and the first round pick by way of the Minnesota Timberwolves. This is a lottery protected pick. It is slim that the Timberwolves will make the playoffs this year. Right now they are three and a half games behind Memphis for the eighth spot. Dallas, a better team, is ahead of them. The Nuggets are within striking distance too. What hurts Minnesota is they have a terrible record in the conference, 11-17, and after the All Star break it is primarily conference games. They have a losing record in their division which is natural considering the Thunder and Blazers are in their division. They cannot win on the road. All signs point to the lottery once again. So if the Lakers get this pick it will mean absolutely nothing for this year unless they do a sign and trade for a key free agent and use the pick as compensation along with cash for the team the free agents leaves. The Suns lose absolutely nothing which is what they want. And the Lakers gain absolutely nothing which is the story of their year.
Don’t believe what you read, the Suns do not want to help the Lakers but they want to help themselves. It is kind of funny, actually. Or maybe it is just ironic. No one in the NBA wants to help the Lakers, they are glad they are suffering and at the same time are privately disgruntled that Kevin Love has all but signed an affidavit stating he is coming to the Lakers in 2015 if they have cap room available. But for right now the Suns have all the advantages. As far as they are concerned less is more. The less they can give the Lakers for Pau Gasol the more they will rejoice. It is up to Kupchak now, the brilliant negotiator, who is already on record about how difficult it is to pull off in season deals on merit alone. The question remains: how badly does Kupchak care about saving 5 million dollars and how badly does he want a second round draft pick. Besides, the Suns are not the only team shopping. The 76ers are trying to move Evan Turner and they have a first round draft pick from the Jrue Holliday deal.
This saga continues for another 18 days. Stay tuned.