The 2012-13 NBA season was supposed to play out like a dream for the Los Angeles Lakers. The team, which already boasted two of the game's best in Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, had managed to acquire two-time MVP Steve Nash and seven-time All-Star Dwight Howard, and appeared poised to challenge the Miami Heat for NBA supremacy.
But it wasn't meant to be, at least not this season, and as a result, one of the Lakers' big four is likely to be out of town. And if general manager Mitch Kupchak can help it, it won't be Dwight Howard, as he told ESPN earlier this week that he's "hopeful" about D-12 returning.
Howard will probably take his time in coming to a decision, but in the meantime, the attention will turn toward Pau Gasol, and whether he'll return for his seventh season with the Lakers.
In what was undoubtedly the most tumultuous season from both an individual and a team standpoint for Gasol, the four-time All-Star scored a career-low 13.7 points, but more importantly, Mike D'Antoni struggled to find a place for the big Spaniard in his offense.
Now, with the Lakers reeling from their Round 1 sweep at the hands of the Spurs, Gasol's numbers in Hollywood appear to be numbered, especially if D'Antoni remains as coach.
According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Gasol was forthright in saying that he's aware of the possible outcomes the summer could hold in store.
From a financial perspective, the assumption was that the Lakers would try to trade his expiring deal or opt to use their one-time amnesty provision on the 12-year veteran.
“(Kupchak) couldn’t really tell me, ‘Hey, thanks for everything you’ve done, it’s more likely you’re going to be gone,’ or no, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to stay here. We’re going to make it happen,’” Gasol said. “Which is to be expected. I appreciate Mitch’s honesty and everything that he’s done and the franchise has done for the last two years to keep me here and have me on the team.”
The two-year time frame Gasol was referring to started with his nearly being traded and has included a second-round exit from the playoffs last season, coach Mike Brown's being fired early this season, and a first-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs last week.
As a key cog in two NBA Championship teams, Gasol is a proven winner and was a viable No. 2 option behind Bryant with the Lakers, but at his $19.3 million price tag, he'd have to be playing a much bigger role to merit his cost.
That's not to say that Gasol can't still contribute at a high level for a number of teams, because he can. Players with his size, skill and offensive touch are always attractive targets, and those with winning pedigrees like Gasol's are few and far between.
Recently, Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times pointed out at least one way in which the Lakers could move Gasol, but also noted another key consideration to take into account.
An unbalanced trade with a team with enough cap room could help the Lakers save a a lot of money. The Lakers also have their one-time amnesty, which can be used to remove Gasol from the salary cap and luxury tax computation (although he still receives his full salary).
If Howard does not re-sign, the Lakers would be far more likely to keep Gasol through the end of his contract.
The team has considered trading Gasol in the past, almost executing a deal for Chris Paul that was ultimately nixed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Whether the Lakers can find a team willing to take on Gasol's contract may depend on how free agency and the NBA draft shake out, but as Pincus notes, if they deal Gasol before knowing of Howard's plans, the team could be left very shorthanded for next season.
There's no telling when Howard could come to a decision, and that will certainly impact how the Lakers approach Gasol's status for next season. But if D-12 does return to L.A., it appears likely that Gasol will be on his way out of town.
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