Sources: Suns careful over Pau Gasol
LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers and Phoenix Suns engaged in a fresh round of trade discussions Monday focused on four-time All-Star center Pau Gasol as both sides continued to assess their options in advance of the Feb. 20 trade deadline, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that, while there is substantive interest on both sides, it's believed Suns officials want to see how Gasol recovers from a strained groin before deciding whether to take talks to the next level.
Gasol, who received a PRP injection from Dr. Steven Yoon on Monday, is now projected to be out at least two weeks, according to the Lakers, after intitially being ruled out for a week. He is expected to be re-evaluated during All-Star Weekend.
After averaging a robust 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds in January, Gasol is expected to miss the next six games with the groin injury, which the Lakers do not regard as serious.
ESPN reported on Sunday the Suns were strongly considering trading for Gasol as part of their well-chronicled desire to acquire an established player as they make a playoff push this season.
One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor's $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol's $19.3 million. A trade for Okafor's expiring deal would save the Lakers $4.8 million, taking them less than $3 million away from the league's luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.
Because the trade would not bring the Lakers all the way under the luxury tax, sources said L.A. remains insistent on getting back draft picks or young players in addition to salary cap savings for the 33-year-old Gasol.
After a slow start to the season, Gasol carried the undermanned Lakers in January despite playing with an injured toe and groin to re-establish his status as one of the more skilled big men in the game. The Lakers expect a more robust market to develop for him in advance of the trade deadline, sources said. The Lakers are also comfortable with keeping Gasol beyond the deadline to maintain as much financial flexibility for free agency this summer and beyond, sources said.
While it is attractive to try and get under the luxury tax threshold this season, it is not imperative, and the Lakers believe they have several other options to do so, sources said.
It is a similar stance to the one they took in trade discussions with Cleveland in late December and early January that would have sent Gasol to the Cavaliers for the partially guaranteed contract of ex-Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who then would have been waived to help L.A. save roughly $20 million in salary and luxury-tax obligations.
Those talks, though, broke down because of the Lakers' insistence on receiving another asset of value in addition to the significant financial benefits, only for L.A. to see Cleveland successfully switch gears and trade Bynum and a collection of draft picks to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.
The Cavaliers never offered the same package of picks to the Lakers, as they preferred to trade for the 28-year-old Deng. The Lakers and Cavaliers have stayed in touch regarding Gasol since those trade talks ended, but sources said nothing is believed to be imminent as the Cavs are mired in nasty stretch that's seen them lose seven of their last eight games to fall to 16-32 overall.
A trade for Okafor wouldn't save the Lakers as much as a trade for Bynum would have, but insurance began picking up 80 percent of what remains on Okafor's contract once Phoenix passed this season's 41-game midpoint because of a long-term neck injury that has sidelined the nine-year veteran all season.
The Arizona Republic reported Monday that Phoenix is having "many exploratory discussions" about Okafor. How much the Suns would be willing to add beyond Okafor to a potential trade for Gasol, in terms of young talent or draft compensation, remains to be seen. But Suns officials have made no secret of the fact that the team's wholly unexpected 29-18 start -- despite playing without the injured Eric Bledsoe for the last 17 games -- has led to some revisions in their long-term planning.
In mid-December, general manager Ryan McDonough told NBA.com that the Suns are indeed open to trading one (or more) of their possible four first-round picks in the loaded 2014 NBA draft if it meant they could get an impact player immediately.
"We're obviously all looking for stars," McDonough said at the time, "and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available."
The appeal of a Gasol trade is that the Suns would be adding a front-line big man for the rest of the season without impacting their future flexibility to pursue younger stars via free agency or trade. It also gives Phoenix a chance to evaluate Gasol -- as well as acquire his Larry Bird rights -- before he becomes a free agent in July to assess whether he's a long-term fit.
It's believed that the Suns, knowing that a franchise-type talent is unlikely to become available between now and the deadline, like the idea of acquiring a proven veteran of Gasol's caliber who won't slice into the club's projected cap-space riches in this and future summers.
The Suns acquired Okafor from Washington shortly before the start of the season in a deal for center Marcin Gortat, which also brought a first-round pick to Phoenix.
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin was used in this report.