With yet another season undermined by rampant injury, the Lakers have reportedly discussed a deal that would send Pau Gasol to Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Bynum, according to ESPN.com.
The motivation for the deal is simple: With L.A. trailing the pack of Western Conference playoff contenders, dealing Gasol for Bynum -- whose salary is only partially guaranteed -- would bring massive savings in salary and luxury tax payments. It's hard to quantify the Lakers' potential savings more exactly given that other pieces would have to be involved to make the swap legal by NBA rules, but with the move L.A. would likely be able to slide under the luxury tax line for the first time since 2007.
That in itself is a significant development, as ducking out of luxury tax territory for even a single season could help the Lakers to steer clear of the fearsome repeater tax penalties that kick in next season. In 2014-15, teams that had paid the tax in each of the three previous seasons will be hit with an even harsher penalty than before. The same applies in 2015-16 for teams that paid the tax in three of the past four seasons. Trading Gasol would thus not only save the Lakers millions of dollars now, but potentially many more down the line by way of avoiding the tax this year.
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The Lakers have had no problem paying the tax so long as it supports a winning team, but in a season like this there would seem to be little reason for it. Steve Nash hasn't looked himself for more than a year, and there's no guarantee that he'll be able to stay on the court this season after making his return in January. Kobe Bryant remains an unknown after making his way back from a torn Achilles only to suffer a knee fracture in the same leg. Gasol, for his part, is posting the lowest field goal percentage of his career and seems slower than ever. Getting a full lineup -- Steve Blake included -- would surely help the Lakers, but it's not as if this were a sure playoff team even at full strength.
This discussed exchange, then, would allow the Lakers to hand off the cap hit and remaining salary for the final year of Gasol's contract, thus relieving some of the financial costs of the current roster. In exchange, they would acquire Bynum, if only temporarily; Bynum's contract is only partially guaranteed for the season so long as he's waived by Jan. 7th, making his contract the attractive, actionable item in this deal from the Lakers perspective. That they might also add a rotation-caliber player or draft considerations could add to the appeal, while Cleveland stands to bolster its frontcourt with the acquisition of Gasol. Even in lesser form, Gasol brings an ability to create offense that goes beyond what players like Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao are even remotely capable of providing.
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Gasol's impending free agency also complicates matters for both teams. While the Lakers explore their options in free agency, owning Gasol's Bird rights seemed a suitable means to carry out a back-up plan. At the same time, trading Gasol removes his cap hold -- worth over $20 million -- from the books for next season, thus allowing L.A. to more freely make use of its cap room. Cleveland, on the other hand, would be making a play for an asset who may have no intent to stay beyond this season. Whether such an arrangement is ultimately worth the Cavs' time depends on the other pieces involved, and how much need be surrendered to ship Bynum out of town while acquiring a quality player in return.