According to sources, the Cavaliers and Lakers have discussed a trade that would bring Andrew Bynum back to Los Angeles, while shipping Pau Gasol to Cleveland. Our writers weigh in on the potential deal.
1. Good deal for the Lakers?
Larry Coon, ESPN.com: Depends. If they do this deal, the Lakers finally would be coming to grips with the reality that's been clear to the rest of the league since Dwight Howard signed with Houston: their strategic best course of action this season is to tank. The only question is whether this deal gives them the most future assets. Can they also snag a Cavs draft pick?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Yes. Let's be perfectly honest and acknowledge the Lakers' season isn't going anywhere. They lack the talent to keep up in a stacked Western Conference, and what little talent they have has been ravaged by injury. This deal would allow them to reset, save a lot of cash, improve their chances at a higher 2014 lottery pick and maybe even score an additional asset.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Yes. Sad, because we're not used to the Lakers essentially giving up on a season, but good because any time you can get out of paying luxury tax, the benefits aren't just for that season but for the seasons to follow. And if you're not keeping Gasol past this season, or making the playoffs, then escaping the tax can be considered a significant victory.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: If their goal is to lose more games and accelerate their ability to get under the tax line to save money, yes this is a good deal. However, the real judgment on whether the trade is good will be determined by whether or not the assets acquired turn into valuable contributors to a contending team. That requires a lot of variables falling into place for a Lakers organization that hasn't had much luck in that area lately.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Yes, this trade would be about the future, not the present. The goal here is to be as bad as possible while clearing Pau's salary. Not every bad team should tank, but the Lakers almost certainly should. They have no pieces to build upon going forward. Even if the Lakers have a history of netting great free agents, they need some kind of star to build around. Getting worse now helps them accomplish this.
2. Good deal for the Cavs?
Coon: Also depends. The Cavs are coming to grips with their own reality -- the Bynum experiment was a failure. But GM Chris Grant was smart enough to arrange the deal so Bynum's contract would have value, even if Bynum doesn't have much value as a player. Gasol would fit in nicely and help them this season. But the same question exists here -- is this the best they can do?
Elhassan: As awful as the Cavs' season has gone, the reality is they are 2.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the putrid Eastern Conference, and two of the teams ahead of them in the standings (Toronto and Boston) probably would like to swap spots with Cleveland. Gasol could help, but that depends on what the Cavs give up (in addition to Bynum) to get him. Cleveland has three protected first-round picks and four unprotected second-round picks (in addition to all of its own picks) in the next three drafts, but I'd hesitate to give up a first for Gasol unless it were assured to be below 20 in 2015 or later.
Gutierrez: Not terrible. The Cavs need to salvage a season that had some playoff expectations. Bynum was a failed gamble, but there's time to recover. If Gasol finds his place quickly (playing for Mike Brown again could help that), Cleveland could look like a real playoff team. Though they'll likely lose Gasol in free agency, the Cavs would still be in position to be significant players in the free-agent market.
Soriano: Assuming the Cavs don't give up too many future assets, they would essentially get something (Gasol) for a non-contributor (Bynum). Gasol's expiring deal makes this a short-term investment who can either be re-signed if he proves useful or his deal can be allowed to expire and turned into cap space. This is a win-win for the Cavs, who need to try and remain competitive this season. Bynum wouldn't help with that and Pau can.
Strauss: No, and I'm not sure what they're doing over there in Cleveland. They publicly submarined Bynum's trade value before this process even began. I can see how Pau helps them win now, but there's a good chance that Gasol's just done as an impact player. Also, he doesn't exactly fit the mold of a pick-and-roll partner for Kyrie Irving. More to the point, he probably wouldn't re-sign in Cleveland.
3. What's your take on Gasol as a player now and in the future?
Coon: The last time we saw prime Gasol was in the 2012 Olympics, where the U.S. didn't have an answer for him in the gold-medal game. While there are intervening factors -- playing alongside Howard last season; not being a good fit in Mike D'Antoni's system this season -- injuries and age have taken a considerable toll. But he can still help a lot of teams in this league -- including the Cavs.
Elhassan: Say it with me now: 2010 Gasol ain't walkin' through that door! He's no longer a high-level "second banana" in this league as far as being a go-to option on the block, and on defense he hovers between "neutral" and "liability." But he's a high-IQ big with great passing ability out of the high and low post and a very good defensive rebounder, so he can help a team that's equipped to take advantage of his skill set without putting too much of a burden on him.
Gutierrez: At his best, he can still be an All-Star. And frankly, that just requires constant effort from him, but getting that out of him is a constant battle. Which is why Gasol in Cleveland might not be the best fit. Who's going to demand more out of him? Brown? Kyrie Irving? Anderson Varejao? Hard to imagine Gasol being especially motivated there. If he moves to a contender next season, we'll see more flashes of really good Gasol.
Soriano: Gasol is a player in physical decline who is looking less and less like a vital piece on a contending team. I still believe he can provide a nightly double-double and be a boost to a team's offense in the right system, but his defensive limitations will not improve and that drastically lowers his ceiling as a two-way contributor now and in the future.
Strauss: I believe Gasol could be a helpful bench guy for years, and that's about as far as I'll go. He's complained a lot about D'Antoni for his troubles, but those statements would carry more weight if Pau was carrying less. He's heavy, moves slowly and looks like he's no longer a 30-minute-a-night type of player. Big men in decline rarely just suddenly return to their old form.
4. What's your take on Bynum as a player now and in the future?
Coon: The big question is whether he's currently worth the remainder of his $12.55 million salary, and the answer is no. This means he's sure to be waived, and we're really talking about his value as a player for the NEXT team that signs him. And like Gasol, he can help a lot of teams in this league -- if he can stay somewhat healthy, be kept under control and comes at a reasonable price.
Elhassan: I wrote about Bynum's on-court value this week. His health issues have all but precluded him from being a player who can give starters' minutes, but in a 12-15 minute role off the bench, he can provide some rebounding and post presence. His mobility is greatly reduced, so he'd need his new team to customize most of its schemes to minimize motion out of him.
Gutierrez: He'll still have suitors if the Lakers acquire then release him, as many are expecting, but it's not going to be pretty. His desire to play is being questioned. His motivation will be to put up numbers entering free agency, and that could clash with an established team. And if he doesn't perform this season, who's going to risk paying him next season and beyond?
Soriano: Sad to say, but Bynum has reached the point in his career where he can no longer be a nightly contributor. The pain in his knees and the resulting limitations it puts on his game combined with the headache he can be off the court make him a fringe NBA player moving forward.
Strauss: Bynum had his moments this season, but the league has moved away from his post-game specialty. Even if Bynum returns to full health, his lack of pick-and-roll value, combined with his bad pick-and-roll defense, will hinder his career. Like Pau, I can see Bynum providing some help off the bench going forward.
5. In 2008, a Gasol trade shook up Kobe, the Lakers and the league. What would be some of the potential ripple effects of this Gasol trade for Kobe, the Lakers and the league?
Coon: We're now inured from the kind of shock generated by the 2008 Gasol trade -- we're now used to seeing deals made for financial reasons. But as I wrote recently Kobe's $48.5 million extension will have serious consequences on the current Lakers squad -- and this would be the first domino. Kobe may not have seen this coming, but he should have.
Elhassan: It would signify the return of sanity to the Lakers, and the triumph of rational decision-making over the nostalgia of yesteryear. For the league, particularly the commissioner's office, it is the ultimate triumph of the collective bargaining agreement over spending habits of the past, as even the mighty Lakers have had to bow to the luxury tax. For Kobe? Who knows ... you'd like to think he understands how this play helps the Lakers (and himself) for the long term.
Gutierrez: Only puts more pressure on Kobe to make something of the final two seasons of his career. At least with Gasol, if the Lakers would've re-signed him, he would've started at a familiar point. Next season, you can expect a whole new core for the Lakers, and that'll be an added challenge for Bryant.
Soriano: I think a fresh start will be good for all parties, though convincing Kobe of this is likely the biggest challenge. Kobe wants to win now and any move that makes that goal more difficult is a tough sell. But these are the realities of the league today and Kobe's injury means any plan that revolves around him being the short-term pillar of the franchise must be balanced with the long-term goals of building a contender for the future.
Strauss: It could possibly net the Cavs a playoff spot, and possibly net the Lakers Andrew Wiggins. Those would be fairly significant outcomes for what looks like the rearranging of Titanic deck chairs. Of course, neither outcome could happen, too. In which case, this would just be a sad footnote on how that great Lakers team of Phil Jackson's second campaign eventually ended.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Larry Coon and Israel Gutierrez write for ESPN.com. Amin Elhassan writes for ESPN Insider. Darius Soriano and Ethan Sherwood Strauss write for TrueHoop.