Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak doesn’t plan on making a big deal before the February 21 trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t at least entertain offers for star forward Pau Gasol.
As quoted by NewsDay.com’s Steven Marcus, Kupchak believes his team is already facing an uphill battle, and dealing a star player in a blockbuster move would only make things worse:
We will not make a trade. We will not trade Dwight Howard. We have no intention of making a trade. It's unlikely that we'll make any trade with any of our principal players. To make another change at this time of the year being behind the eight-ball like we are, I think that would just make it more difficult. The talent is there. We have to find our way.
Still, there is plenty of time left until the deadline, and if the Lakers can’t manage to turn things around quickly, Kupchak may have to do something to ensure the Lakers won’t completely unravel before the playoffs.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, a source with knowledge of the situation believes Toronto has interest in trading for Gasol before the deadline, potentially using Andrea Bargnani as a trade chip for the deal.
Bargnani has not played well this season, and with the Raptors now apparently loading up for a second-half push, president Bryan Colangelo could be looking for that one piece to put his team over the top.
The problems surrounding the Lakers’ current situation are plentiful. Dwight Howard has been suffering from a nagging shoulder injury, and even when the duo is healthy, head coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t like playing Howard and Gasol on the court together. The entire situation has resulted in a lack of chemistry that hasn’t gone unnoticed when looking at the standings.
Gasol has played well from his bench role, but as one of the highest-paid players in the league, it would be unwise for the Lakers to keep him in that role. If D’Antoni can’t work Gasol and Howard into the lineup at the same time on a regular basis, one of the three has to go, and it probably won’t be D’Antoni.
In his interview with Marcus, Kupchak addressed the age of his squad and went on to say that the Lakers will find some answers in “seven or eight games:”
Old? If you're looking to make excuses, I suppose. I put this team together with Jim Buss. We don't think they're too old. We have great experience. When I look at our team and I make a list of things that may contribute to our record to date, age is not one of them. I think seven or eight games from now we'll have more answers. We're trying to get into the playoffs and make a run.
If making a playoff run really is the main focus, all the discussion of playing time and lineups should go out the window. Kupchak needs to evaluate whether the Lakers would be a better team with or without Gasol and act on that decision.
Even with the current mindset of the Lakers’ front office, Sam Amico of Fox Sports hints that there may still be the potential for Gasol to be moved before the deadline:
Speculation of potential deals aside, Los Angeles’ situation boils down to focusing on the task at hand. The Lakers need to make a decision and move forward with it, and if that decision entails trading Gasol for pieces that may improve a team that clearly isn’t entertaining offers for Howard, Kupchak needs to pull the trigger.
Bargnani may not be as talented as Gasol, but he would almost certainly be a better fit as a stretch-four playing next to Howard. Any move that would send Gasol elsewhere in the league isn’t would not be about getting equal talent in return, either. The Lakers are wasting Gasol’s value on the bench, and with that particular situation unlikely to change, something else will have to.
The Lakers have a ton of talent, but a misuse of that talent is one of the reasons they are 22-26 and 3.5 games out of the playoff hunt. It isn’t time to panic yet, but moving Gasol may be the only logical solution short of inserting him in the starting lineup next to Howard and allowing the team to develop into a cohesive unit.
If it does in fact become time to push the panic button, Kupchak and the rest of the Lakers’ front office had better hope it happens before February 21.