Are Lakers interested in changing course?

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
1:55
AM ET
Pau Gasol for Brook Lopez?

It would seem, on the surface, that merely posing such a question is a moot point given that Lopez is out for the season after re-breaking his troublesome right foot.

Beneath the surface, though, there are at least two reasons to address it here:

1. Sources with knowledge of the discussions told ESPN.com that the Lakers did indeed engage the Nets earlier this month in some exploratory talks to see if Brooklyn had interest in such a swap. Sources say that the Nets balked at the idea when it was presented before Lopez's injury, but it's still noteworthy if it happened.

2. The Lakers were known to be, at the very least, calling around to gauge Gasol's value before they decided to pull Pau off the market earlier this month. So determining how serious the Lakers really were with their Lopez interest is tricky ... especially since Lopez's health misfortune extinguishes any realistic hope of Pau-for-Brook talks re-igniting between now and the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Yet the mere concept of Gasol and Lopez exchanging jerseys nonetheless gets you thinking, because Lopez is owed $32.5 million over the next two seasons after this one.

And because trading for a player with guaranteed money due beyond 2014-15 would almost certainly affect the Lakers' free-agent flexibility in the summer of 2015.

Which runs counter to what we've all assumed about the Lakers for some time.

Trading for players whose contracts expire in 2015 is one thing. There have been whispers in circulation for some time now that the Lakers, as opposed to wasting time with the long-shot pursuits of LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, might be willing to go that route if they knew they could indeed get a difference-maker or two back to pair with Kobe Bryant in Year 1 of Kobe's new two-year, $48.5 million contract extension.

But trading for a highly paid player whose contract stretches into 2015-16 is something else entirely. That strategy has long been seen as a non-option for the Lakers, based on the premise that -- depending on how the rest of the roster looks at that point in terms of guaranteed money -- acquiring someone like Lopez would almost certainly complicate L.A.'s long-held desire to make a free-agent splash in the summer of 2015.

The harsh reality for both teams, let’s not forget, is that they’d have to get under the luxury-tax threshold twice in the next three years to avoid the looming repeater penalty, which will surely factor into any serious trade discussions either franchise pursues in the remaining 52 days until the deadline.

Yet you can’t help but wonder: Has there quietly been a policy shift in L.A. when it comes to certain trade targets?

That's a question very much worth asking.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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