In what marks a shift toward the Lakers completing their rebuilding process, the Lakers have talked with the Phoenix Suns about possibly trading Pau Gasol, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The talks have been nothing but exploratory, and a source characterized it as one of many broader discussions the Lakers have taken in hopes of revamping their roster before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
But part of the deal, as first reported by ESPN.com, would involve the Lakers acquiring forward Emeka Okafor, who has not played this season because of a neck injury. Okafor has averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds, but might not play this season. The deal would also dent the Lakers’ front court options, which includes an offensively limited Jordan Hill, an inexperienced Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre and a seldom-used Chris Kaman.
Still, a possible trade with Phoenix remains attractive for various reasons. Gasol’s $19.3 million contract bodes higher than the $14.5 million Okafor is making in the final year of his deal, allowing the Lakers to save both $4.8 million in salary and drop closer below the luxury tax threshold. The Suns also can offer first round draft picks to the Lakers in what is considered a talented class.
The Lakers had negotiated last month with the Cleveland Cavaliers on a deal involving Gasol for Andrew Bynum, whose partially but they held firm they would only do so if they received valued young players and draft picks. The Lakers had no interest in making the deal solely to waive Bynum, a move coupled with Gasol’s departure that would’ve secured $20 million in luxury taxes and ensured the team falls below the luxury tax threshold.
The Lakers also resisted making the deal with Cleveland because it would’ve signaled they were essentially writing off the season. But the Lakers are rattled with injuries and currently rank 13th in the Western Conference, increasing urgency both to acquire assets.
The Lakers have ruled Gasol out of their three-game trip this week with stops in Minnesota (Tuesday), Cleveland (Wednesday) and Philadelphia (Friday) because of a strained right groin. But he has rebounded from a sluggish start, averaging 20.6 points on 50.9 percent shooting and 12.1 rebounds through 35.3 minutes through January.
Gasol has vowed he wants to stay with the Lakers, but he has griped in the past two seasons how coach Mike D’Antoni features him in his offense. Though Gasol remains an offensive focal point, he prefers operating more out of the post instead of on the perimeter. He has also resisted diving toward the basket off of pick-and-rolls, cognizant of the physical toll it can take on his body. He has struggled this season through various ailments, including an offseason procedure on both of his knees, an upper respiratory infection, a sprained right ankle, a strained tendon in the big toe of his left foot and his current groin injury.
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