NEW ORLEANS -- Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak vowed he would be pursuing deals ever since the Chris Paul trade fell through on the eve of training camp and he finally might have found his trade on the eve of Thursday's noon PT trade deadline.
The Lakers revisited talks to acquire Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley on Wednesday, multiple league sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com. Several variations of the trade have been discussed. One would land Beasley on the Lakers in a three-team deal that would send Portland Trail Blazers guard Jamal Crawford to the Wolves and Luke Ridnour from Minnesota to Portland. Los Angeles would give up one of its two 2012 first-round draft picks in the deal and use its $8.9 million trade exception, acquired when it traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks in December, to absorb Beasley's approximate $6.3 million salary. Portland would also receive the Lakers' first-round pick.
As of late Wednesday night no deal was completed, but a source familiar with the negotiations said, "the sides have momentum."
The Oregonian earlier reported another version of the deal without Ridnour and including Lakers guard Steve Blake, who played three seasons for the Blazers from 2007 to 2010 and who still keeps his offseason home in Oregon. Blake played 18 minutes in the Lakers' 107-101 overtime victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday, however, and told reporters before the game, "I'm still here." But he did not speak to the media after the game.
Lakers coach Mike Brown said before the game he had not spoken to Kupchak in several days and was not given any instruction to hold out any players from game action to prevent any injury that could end up sabotaging an agreement that was in place.
Crawford, meanwhile, did not play for the Blazers in their blowout loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday. He officially sat because of knee tendinitis, but The Oregonian reported the DNP was linked to Crawford's role in the ongoing trade discussions. Beasley and Ridnour were reportedly on a team flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City on Wednesday, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"I'm just a pawn in this game," Beasley told the Star Tribune earlier in the day on Wednesday. "L.A., Boston, New Jersey, Orlando, anywhere ... I mean, if they decide to move me, then I've got to go. I'm not saying I want to, but it's something I have no control over."
Beasley, 23, is averaging 11.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game with Minnesota this season. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound power forward has averaged 15.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in his four-year career. Beasley was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft by the Miami Heat but fell out of favor with the franchise after a series of off-court incidents. He was traded to Minnesota in the summer of 2010 for a second-round draft pick in order to clear cap space and facilitate the signings of free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Beasley, a left-handed player with a knack for scoring the ball, has developed into a proficient 3-point shooter and shot 43.9 percent from beyond the arc with Minnesota this season. If he ends up in L.A., he could be expected to fill the void left by Odom as the primary scoring option off the Lakers' bench. The Lakers' second unit ranked dead last in scoring this season coming into Wednesday's game against the Hornets, averaging just 20.5 points per game. After tinkering with the rotation for the first half of the season, Brown likes how his starting five has performed in the 23 games since Metta World Peace joined the first unit so Beasley is unlikely to change that.
The Lakers were reluctant to add to their already formidable salary cap figure of approximately $87.4 million for the 2011-12 season, as they are already well past the $70.3 million luxury tax level and will owe the league office a $17.1 million dollar-for-dollar penalty fee for their overage at the end of the season. According to a source familiar with the Lakers' front office's thinking, the team has been unwilling to part with their first-round draft picks because of their value in what scouts believe to be a loaded 2012 NBA draft. Furthermore, the Lakers have tried to have money going out with any deal that would have money coming in and have tried to unload Luke Walton's $6.1 million expiring contract to no avail.
Acquiring Beasley could satisfy the need for talent without breaking the Lakers' bank. While Beasley's 2011-12 salary was in the books for approximately $6.3 million, every player's salary was prorated to about 80 percent this year because of the lockout-shortened 66-game schedule. The team would further prorate Beasley's salary because he'd only be a Laker for the final 23 games of the season, which is about 35 percent of the remaining schedule. Do the math and the Lakers will be paying Beasley approximately $1.75 million for the rest of the season. However, the Lakers would be responsible for paying the luxury tax on Beasley's full season salary -- but prorated for the 66-game schedule -- of $5 million. The new collective bargaining agreement does not account for an additional prorating of a player's luxury tax figure if the player is acquired at the trade deadline by a luxury tax-laden team. All told, the only real financial commitment the Lakers will be making for Beasley this season is about $6.8 million.
If the Lakers ultimately acquire Beasley, they aren't automatically locked into a lengthy commitment. If they choose, this offseason Los Angeles could extend him a qualifying offer of approximately $8.172 million, making Beasley a restricted free agent and opening the door for him to remain a Laker in the 2012-13 season. They could, however, simply allow Beasley to enter unrestricted free agency by not extending the qualifying offer, removing his salary from their books.
Crawford, who turns 32 later this month, signed a two-year, $10 million deal with Portland in the offseason, with a player option for the second year. The Pacific Northwest native is averaging 14.2 points and 3.7 assists on the season, both slightly below his 12-year career averages.
Ridnour, 31, has spent the last two seasons in Minnesota and is averaging 11.5 points and 4.0 assists for the Timberwolves.