Over the next two months as the trade deadline approaches, Hoops Rumors will be examining several players rumored to be on the block, and we'll begin with the most prominent name in discussions. Pau Gasol is off to a career-worst start in terms of scoring and shooting percentage, and his poor fit alongside Dwight Howard in the up-tempo offense of new Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has many believing he'll soon be gone from L.A.
The Lakers are about a year removed from the short-circuited deal to acquire Chris Paul, a trade that appeared to send Gasol to the Rockets. Houston would have given up Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and a 2012 first-round pick. No one's going to offer nearly as much to acquire Gasol these days. The Rockets, for their part, are reportedly no longer interested, and the Lakers are apparently coming up empty in their search for a package of two players on cheaper contracts who would fit better in D'Antoni's offense. L.A. wants to wait until Gasol and Nash have played together under the new coach before making any moves, and the point guard has made it clear he wants to play with Gasol. Yet with Nash nearing a return, the Lakers will soon come to a point of reckoning, when they realize their team as constituted is either capable of winning a title or not.
For as much trouble as Gasol is having putting the ball in the basket, the rest of his game appears intact. He's averaging only 8.8 rebounds per game this season after grabbing 10.4 a year ago, but Gasol notched just 7.8 RPG with the Lakers in 2007/08 after coming over from the Grizzlies. This season's decline is less significant in terms of rebounds per 36 minutes, where Gasol's average of 9.2 is off from last year's 10.0 mark. Gasol's assists and blocks per game are in line with last year's numbers. Even so, his 15.1 PER and .096 win shares per 48 minutes are career lows by a long shot, so that could deflate his value with teams that put a great deal of stock in advanced metrics.
The greatest impediment to a Gasol trade is likely his inflated contract, which pays him $19MM this season and close to $19.3MM in its final season next year. It also includes a 15% trade kicker, but because Gasol already bumps up against the maximum salary, a team that trades for Gasol would only have to give him another $136K. Regardless, Gasol's deal would occupy 35% of the salary cap for whichever team acquires him, quite an investment no matter who the player is, and the money wouldn't come off the books until 2014.
A team that's targeting players in the free agent market next summer wouldn't make sense for Gasol, which would seem to eliminate the Hawks, who don't appear to have any interest. The Wolves might be a more intriguing possibility, since their commitments for next season have them close to the salary cap anyway. Minnesota denies interest, but rumors persist. The Lakers supposedly haven't been moved by offers built around Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic, perhaps in part because Pekovic, a restricted free agent at season's end, doesn't seem like a fit for D'Antoni's offense, either. The Wolves would have to include much more than just Williams and Pekovic to make the salaries match anyway, and I suspect Andrei Kirilenko would have to be a part of that deal. He's a versatile, athletic forward of the sort that makes D'Antoni smile, and his contract, like Gasol's, ends in 2014, when the Lakers want to have cap space to pursue free agents.
The Raptors look like they're in the mix for Gasol, too, with Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Linas Kleiza among the players who could wind up in L.A. Just like the Lakers, the Raptors need to get healthy before making a deal. When that happens, it might just come down to whether the Lakers are sold on Bargnani, whose trade value is at an all-time low, much in the same way Gasol has taken a hit in the eyes of executives around the league. Some teams are apparently higher on Bargnani than others and willing to take a risk to bring him on board, so perhaps the Lakers are among the teams more inclined to take him.
In recent years, the most prominent trade candidate has been dealt at or near the deadline, but if the Lakers continue to struggle once Nash is back in the lineup, I don't think they'll wait to make a move. As many of his numbers show, Gasol is still a productive player, and even if he isn't the star he used to be, he can help a team. He's probably of greater value to another team than he is to the Lakers in D'Antoni's scheme, so I think at some point a team will step forward with a deal that L.A. will take.