By Ben Golliver
This wasn't the "You've been traded" phone call and it wasn't even the "You're being shopped" heads up, but Lakers management has reportedly taken a first step toward putting veteran big man Pau Gasol back on the block.
ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin reports that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak reached out to Gasol's people to let them know that the 32-year-old Spaniard isn't untradeable.
However, a source told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has recently spoken to Gasol's representatives and the gist of the conversation was that if Gasol is unable to adjust to [new coach Mike] D'Antoni's system, the team will have no choice but to search for possible trade scenarios.
Chris Mannix of SI.com reports that trade talks aren't likely to develop until after Dec. 15, when players who were signed as free agents during the summer of 2012 become trade-eligible.
League execs believe LA won't have any real discussions for Pau until [point guard Steve Nash is back from injury] and past the 15th, when summer signed contracts are in play.
Gasol will sit out Tuesday's game against the Rockets with tendinitis in both knees. He's in the midst of the worst season of his career, averaging 12.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 blocks while playing 34.8 minutes a night. He's shooting a career-low 42.0 percent from the field, in large part because his game has shifted from low-post looks to a perimeter-first approach. For a full exploration of that shift, check out this Point Forward feature from last week.
To make matters worse, Gasol's numbers have only declined since D'Antoni replaced the fired Mike Brown and interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff. In seven games under D'Antoni, the Lakers are 3-4 and Gasol has averaged just 10.1 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 38.8 percent. He's been benched down the stretch of multiple games and is averaging just 30 minutes per game.
The trading block is a familiar place for Gasol, who was nearly moved to the Rockets in Dec. 2011 until commissioner David Stern reportedly stepped in to veto a three-team deal that would have sent Hornets guard Chris Paul to the Lakers. Paul was eventually traded to the Clippers, the Lakers traded forward Lamar Odom to the Mavericks and Gasol stayed put in Los Angeles.
The Lakers' payroll currently sits at $100 million, a figure that brings with it a huge luxury tax bill and mammoth expectations. Gasol is the only big salary player likely to be traded -- Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard aren't going anywhere -- so it's no surprise his name has come up this quickly, especially after his slow start. The Lakers are currently 8-9 and could fall further below .500 with nine of their remaining 13 games in December on the road. It won't be easy for the Lakers to construct a trade involving Gasol, especially if his quality of play is limited by injury. Gasol is on the books for $19 million this season and a fully-guaranteed $19.3 million next season. Those figures are among the NBA's highest and look particularly large under the league's new collective bargaining agreement. According to HoopsHype.com, Gasol is the ninth-highest paid player in the league, although two of the players above him on the list -- Brandon Roy and Gilbert Arenas -- had part or all of their salaries amnestied. Gasol makes the equivalent of two quality players, more than three mid-level players and five or six players on rookie contracts. The NBA's salary cap is currently $58 million, so paying Gasol next season would eat up nearly 1/3 of a team's cap figure, making it difficult to fill out a quality roster without exceeding the cap or potentially going into the luxury tax. That doesn't eliminate interest in his services, by any stretch, but it does limit the number of possible buyers.