Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported late Sunday night that the Lakers and Cavaliers were unable to find common ground on a deal that would have sent Gasol to Cleveland for a package spearheaded by former teammate Andrew Bynum. The deal, which had a Sunday deadline to account for travel, team physicals and league approval before the Jan. 7 guarantee date on Bynum's contract, could be hatched on Monday, but it seems unlikely.
This is nothing new for Gasol, of course. The 7-footer's name has been linked in trade rumors each of the past three seasons, and was even part of a consummated deal to New Orleans in the vetoed Chris Paul swap. Each time, by hook or David Stern crook, Gasol has managed to stay in purple and gold.
Trade action remained inert for the simplest of reasons: Neither side was willing to budge regarding what it felt was unreasonable demands from the other side. And looking at how negotiations for the deal went, it's really hard to blame either side for balking.
A Bynum-for-Gasol trade straight up does not work under the NBA's salary cap. Both Cleveland and Los Angeles are over the cap, and Gasol makes about $7 million more this season than Bynum, meaning the Cavaliers would have to attach salaries of at least $2 million to get the deal done. That much, in theory, is easy. The Cavs have eight players on their roster making between $2-$7 million, and Los Angeles has a few non-guaranteed contracts it could waive in a three-for-one swap.
Where the two sides understandably differed is what secondary asset would also head to the Lakers. Cleveland had interest in giving up only flotsam. The particulars beyond Bynum and Gasol have mostly been kept secret, but it seems unlikely that the Cavs would offer much beyond a C.J. Miles-Tyler Zeller type—both wholly replacement level even at their peaks.
Miles, 26, would allow the Lakers to corner the market on cheap but still valuable wing players, but little more. Zeller has frankly been useless over his first two NBA seasons, a big body with little to offer otherwise—though he has shown improvement from Year 1 to Year 2.
The Lakers had their sights set much higher. Enigmatic shooting guard Dion Waiters has been the subject of his own set of trade rumors after an early-season blowup, but the Cavs have refused to include him in any negotiations, per Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Lakers also attempted to pry Russian shooting guard Sergey Karasev from Cleveland but were also turned down.
Karasev and Waiters have their warts, but both have the potential to thrive and develop in Mike D'Antoni's system. Waiters has often gotten bogged down in isolation, dribble-heavy nonsense that stilts offenses, something D'Antoni ruefully pounds out of players. Karasev is a complete unknown at the NBA level because he barely touches the floor but is someone league scouts loved heading into the draft as a polished European prospect who could excel offensively.
Considering the Lakers roster is a revolving door of lottery-bust reclamation projects, either Waiters or Karasev would instantly boost their young core talent. Cleveland had no interest in parting with its young players, nor did it even want to part with a future first-round pick.
Starting to get the picture?
The Cavaliers are 11-23 and have gone 2-8 over their last 10 games. They currently have the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference and fifth-worst record in the NBA. While the team has gone on record with its stated desire to make the postseason—a move at least partially coded as a "please come back" message to LeBron James—this recent streak has been a calcifying return to reality.
Case in point: Cleveland is not good at professional basketball. Mike Brown is not doing a good job of coaching his professional basketball team. The playoffs are still feasible in a post-Gasol shakeup, but the Cavaliers see him as nothing but a short-term rental. Is adding a motivated Gasol playing for a contract really a good idea in the long term? And what if it comes at the expense of a talented, young player?
Dan Gilbert has been nothing if not irrational during his time as the Cavs owner, but that's probably one step too far on the shortsighted scale, even for him.
The Lakers' flat-out refusal is less about tanking than it is about perception. Although they often get criticized because that's just what people do, most Lakers fans were smart enough to realize this was a rebuild year. Moves like Kobe Bryant's expensive extension have confused that long-term thinking, but with a group of washouts and also-rans adorning the roster, it was only a matter of time before the team's hot start was extinguished.
That being said, there's a thin line between an understandable rebuild and outright disrespect. Trading Gasol, a still-effective player who helped bring two championships to the franchise, is a big move. Adding a Waiters or a Karasev dangles the carrot of future prosperity—the illusion of hope.
Dumping off the dude who has been your best player all season, has done a ton of community work and has a great relationship with Kobe Bryant to lop off a luxury-tax bill? That's a bit too far. If the Lakers fans are smart enough to understand a Gasol deal, they're intelligent enough to know this franchise prints its own money. Time Warner Cable's deal with the Lakers is worth an estimated $3 billion over the next two decades—or $150 million per season.
There is no repeater tax on earth that can cause this franchise to end a season in the red. And while it's unfair for anyone to tell the Busses they shouldn't try to make money, the team's treatment of Gasol as the red-headed stepchild hasn't made any favors with other NBA superstars either.
"It’s just the love for the game and a sense of pride and loyalty to my teammates and myself," Gasol said of how he copes with trade rumors, per Shelburne. "When I put that together, I just sort of put everything else aside and play my best, play hard and give everything I have."
That sounds like a man nearly broken by this entire process.
In the end, Gasol may be the only loser in this scenario. Long the bearded face of the Change of Scenery All-Stars, perhaps Cleveland could have been a reprieve from the hellish Los Angeles spotlight and constant uncertainty about where he'll be playing tomorrow. Maybe his recent solid play would only get better with Brown, under whom Gasol averaged a double-double in Los Angeles.
For now, Gasol is a Laker. Again. Having gone through the ringer once more, Gasol can exhale a bit.
At least until the next round of trade rumors comes knocking at his door.
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