The trade deadline hasn’t passed, as NBA teams still have another six weeks between now and Feb. 20 to legally trade players. One important, specialized trade deadline did pass on Tuesday, as former Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum was dealt to the Chicago Bulls for All-Star forward Luol Deng, and subsequently waived by Chicago in order for the team’s ownership group to save money. The move also gave Chicago an outside shot at securing improved first round draft picks, but those selections are long shots at best, and the team most likely will just take in second round picks and payroll savings for the ability to lop Deng’s half-season contract off of their books.
For a while there, it was rumored that the similarly in-the-black Los Angeles Lakers also wanted a chance to perform the same maneuver, but they decided against dealing for Bynum when it became certain that the pick package Cleveland was offering (unlikely the same one that Chicago “received”) wasn’t suitable enough trade fodder. Cleveland wanted talented big man Pau Gasol in that scenario, and various outlets reported that over the weekend the two teams were discussing sending Pau to Cleveland.
Chatter heightened when on Saturday, in a since-deleted tweet, ESPN 710 in Los Angeles reported that “League sources say Pau/Bynum deal is done and happening Sunday,” which sent off a flurry of re-tweets and questions regarding ESPN 710’s reporting acumen. The station later pulled back on their missive, but not before Pau Gasol got wind of the “story” in the middle of a rather curious day off.
The four-time All-Star from Spain said he was at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood watching "The Lion King" on Saturday night when erroneous reports came out via Twitter that the Lakers had agreed to trade him.
"I checked my Twitter at intermission and I see that it's almost official," Gasol said Tuesday after the Lakers' 110-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. "I was getting all these messages, 'Farewell, Pau. Thanks for all your services,' all that stuff.
"It was a really good musical. I enjoyed it. I brought my parents and my little brother. It was a nice family time. But that kind of affected a little bit, the rest of the show."
Asked, jokingly, whether it stopped him from enjoying the musical's famous song "Hakuna Matata," which means "no worries" in Swahili, Gasol laughed and said, "Yeah, that would've been a good way to go. But that's how I approach things anyway, most of the time."
(Shelburne was one of several in-house ESPN reporters that immediately decried their colleague’s premature report, so chalk this up to continued due diligence.)
Pau is such a cheerful sort that it makes complete and total sense he’d be taking in the Broadway-styled version of ‘The Lion King’ on a rare NBA day off. As someone who recalls elbowing his way to buy a $12 adult beverage during intermission at the New York City version of ‘The Lion King’ a few years back while sneaking in his own Twitter check, I can’t imagine learning of an impending move to another franchise while skulking back to my seat. And one has to consider that Pau’s skulk was more notable that most theatre patrons – he’s famous to start, and anyone who isn’t aware of Pau Gasol undoubtedly took notice as a 7-footer ambled his way down the aisle.
Of course, things aren’t quite in the clear for Gasol and the Lakers.
Los Angeles is still six games out of the playoff bracket, with Kobe Bryant still weeks away from returning from a left knee injury. The team is terribly banged-up, on its way to a projected 33 wins in a conference where it would take a projected 47 wins just to grab the eighth and final playoff seed. The Lakers will not be making a playoff run this year, though they’ll be paying the luxury tax while they wait 2013-14 out.
This is why the team considered dumping Gasol for Bynum and a hoped-for asset, and it was understandable chatter. Gasol has an expiring contract worth over $19.2 million this season, but those sorts of deals have declined in trade value as the years move along, for various basketball and financial reasons. If this were 2004, even a declining Gasol at age 32 would be the hottest name on the market, sought after by either teams looking for a big man to put them over the top, or squads looking to clear nearly $20 million worth of salary off their books when his contract ran out following the season.
If the last few weeks are to be counted on, though, Gasol doesn’t exactly look like a player in decline. It’s true that he’s struggled comparatively under coaches Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, lead men that were unwilling to use Gasol at the apex of the offense as Phil Jackson once did, but over the last eight games Gasol has averaged 19.1 points per game alongside 10.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.3 blocks. Those are All-Star numbers, and while the Laker front office has probably conceded that a postseason appearance is a long shot, they still probably wouldn’t mind having first dibs on re-signing the big man when his contract expires in July.
That said, it’s still January. And just as it was a decade ago, teams could still line up to send back all manner of salary and assets to Los Angeles for the chance to either field Gasol as that big man that just about clinches a championship chance, or rids them of luxury tax concerns for 2014-15. There are just too many franchises with too many needs – remember that three or four teams at a time can pile into these sorts of deals – to call off Pau Gasol as the next big trading target.
If he wants to stay on the Lakers, though, Pau better spend most of his days off at Pantages. It appears to be a good luck charm for warding off misinformed radio chat show gasbags.
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