With the 2013 offseason looming, it’s widely assumed that the Los Angeles Lakers will trade Pau Gasol to shed salary and avoid a steep luxury tax bill. Although it seems like a foregone conclusion, that’s not exactly the case.
The Lakers have made it known that re-signing Dwight Howard is their top priority heading into the 2013-14 season. Retaining Howard’s services involves him signing a five-year contract worth roughly $118 million on a team with huge player salary commitments.
Thus, Gasol is expendable is the eyes of some.
The Spaniard will earn $19.3 million for the 2013-14 season and then see his contract expire. Conventional wisdom suggests that keeping Howard involves jettisoning Gasol.
Gasol plays the power forward and center positions at a high level, which makes him a valuable commodity. In addition, Mike D’Antoni’s early inability to devise a game plan in which Howard and Gasol could coexist certainly would make his exit understandable.
But in truth, the Lakers are probably better off keeping Gasol regardless of the result of Howard’s 2013 free-agency tour. If the three-time Defensive Player of the Year departs, the Purple and Gold will require a big man. And Gasol is certainly familiar with the role.
In the event that Howard comes back, Gasol has proven he makes Howard’s life easier. The Spaniard is an excellent pressure release point in the Laker offense and consistently finds the open man rolling at the rim.
During the course of the 2012-13 campaign, Howard benefited from this immensely, especially in the final month of the season. The tag team has the potential to dominate opposing frontcourts, an advantage that typically results in championships.
There is no substitute for talent. Trading away Gasol would probably bring back some interesting pieces, but he will probably be in the Hall of Fame one day. When exchanging a player of that caliber, the transaction rarely brings an acquisition of equal value.
In addition, the Lakers reportedly plan on having cap space available in the 2014 summer to make a run at LeBron James according to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst.
That by itself complicates the Gasol trade chip.
Indeed, given his immense salary, a swap involving him will require a few players to make the transaction work. Consequently, dealing the Spaniard could bring back players that compromise the Lakers' 2014 salary cap.
Mitch Kupchak may very well be better off keeping the two-time world champion and letting him walk once the 2013-14 season has ended. Following this route might free up somewhere in the vicinity of $30 million in cap room, depending on whether Howard returns or not.
Therefore, the Lakers will probably be inclined to hold onto the big man. It’s worth noting that since arriving in Los Angeles, Gasol has espoused all of the Laker virtues and routinely made it known that he bleeds Purple and Gold.
In the grand scheme of things, Gasol’s loyalty and commitment to the franchise should not only be commended, but also rewarded. Keeping him for at least the 2013-14 season gives him the option of leaving the team on his terms.
Also, keeping him in a Laker jersey might convince him to re-sign on the cheap even though he will be a 33-year-old big man by the time his contract is up.
Granted, such a statement might be outlandish, but all options must be considered.
Gasol fills their short and long-term goals beautifully. Playing in 2013-14 keeps the team competitive and perhaps in the hunt for a title alongside Howard, which is of utmost importance in Lakerland. And again, he helps with the bottom line given that his contract expires at a time when James can hit the open market—along with other notable players.
Both Gasol's contract and his talent are important to the Lakers.