First, the Lakers should not realistically care to save the rather insignificant amount of money that the repeater tax charges. Second, the Lakers should hope to attain assets like a draft pick or a promising young player in return for the Spaniard at the trade deadline. Finally, and most importantly, the Lakers do not tank.
The extra money and the potential to avoid the repeater tax may sound like appealing excuses to part with Gasol, but those numbers hardly add up for a brand that has a $3 billion dollar television contract.
From a marketing standpoint, the Lakers do not gain ground by trading Gasol away and effectively admitting that they are all-in for the race to the bottom. Admitting defeat is an easy way to stop selling out the arena. Also, keeping the Spanish-speaking market directly connected to the team likely balances the modest financial gains on offer. Gasol is currently the only Laker who gives interviews in Spanish (note: Steve Nash also speaks limited Spanish on those rare weeks he is healthy).
Now, if the Lakers can get a first-round draft pick or another promising asset back for Gasol, they should happily send the Spaniard packing. Until that type of offer comes in, though, this season should continue to crash without interruption.
The Lakers do not tank, and the longer Gasol stays with the team, the longer management can hold onto the claim that they are not actively tanking the season. They put together a team that was designed to keep the ship afloat until Kobe Bryant returned and propelled the ship into a higher gear.
The team performed better than expected, but Bryant's return was cut short by a fractured in his knee. That break cracked the Lakers' hopeful dream of an underdog season that ends in a miraculous run. Despite loud calls to tank before the season started, management did not tank the season. Ultimately, injuries tanked the season for them.
Although the distinction may be slight, it is an important one.
Tanking implies purposely losing and throwing in the towel. The Lakers did not do that, but injuries have slowly sunk this season. Los Angeles has dropped six games in a row, and the Lakers are closer to the bottom of the Western Conference than a playoff spot. Looking ahead, 10 of the next 13 games are on the road for a team that is depleted, downtrodden and destined for doom.
They may not be tanking, but the Lakers are drowning fast.
If the Lakers are not at the bottom of the Western Conference by the time Bryant seriously considers another return in February, Mike D'Antoni should be considered for the NBA's Coach of the Year.
The Lakers may not be tanking by definition, but they have begun their freefall to the bottom of the standings and the top of the draft board. For now, Gasol has not shown enough to suggest he will slow that freefall.
The intelligent play for the Lakers would be to ride Gasol to respectable losses throughout January. When the trade deadline arrives, the Lakers should explore the market and see if the Spaniard can draw a first-round draft pick or valuable young player.
Due to an upper respiratory infection, Gasol expects to be on antibiotics for the foreseeable future. The survivors of the Lakers' MASH unit finished 2013 with three straight losses to the three worst teams in the NBA: Utah, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Those demoralizing losses came before Jordan Farmar went down to a torn hamstring, so the Lakers are even thinner than before.
For starters, Kendall Marshall is starting at point guard for the Lakers. Although he has played well in his limited appearances, the 22-year-old was not even in the NBA two weeks ago. Two weeks later, Marshall does not have a legitimate backup at his position. With the Lakers' roster full at 15 players, no one else is magically coming around to save the day.
For a franchise that has feasted for so long, a lengthy famine is fostering.
Even with Gasol hanging around, this non-tanking Lakers team should drop to the depths of the conference rather quickly. Keeping Gasol for another month is worth the risk. Even if nothing comes up at the trade deadline, the worst-case scenario involves the Lakers holding onto the man who helped win two championships until the end of the season and allowing the Spaniard to leave with dignity and respect.
For now, keeping the Spaniard on the team gives the Lakers some level of dignity and respectability.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo Contributor in Sports and is a Los Angeles Lakers insider for NBC Los Angeles. He is based in Santa Monica and covers the Lakers at practices, shootarounds, games, and special events. You can follow Shahan on Twitter @ShahanLA.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Pau Gasol