Celtics, Lakers, Knicks among teams to watch leading up to NBA trade deadline
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Why they will make a move: Rumors of Pau Gasol’s L.A. exodus have sputtered out over the past month, but the former All-Star remains out of phase with the Lakers’ long-term plans. Without a move, Gasol’s tenure with the team will likely expire with his contract at the end of the season; Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash alone will register a $33.2 million hit on L.A.’s cap sheet for 2014-15, which doesn’t leave room for Gasol or his cap hold if the team intends to be a free agent player as reported. It’s understandable, then, that Mitch Kupchak would be exploring any options available for moving Gasol, if only to redeem some value for a talented piece while he still has the option.
The greater motivation for trading Gasol, though, is the same as that behind any potential Laker deadline deal: To alleviate L.A.’s luxury tax burden as much as possible. As it stands, the Lakers are an 18-win team scheduled to pay more than $90 million in combined tax and salary. Gasol’s $19.3 million earnings this season are a big part of that, and while the opportunity to actually duck under the luxury tax line seems to have passed, the Lakers could still make moves in which they take back less salary as a means of saving a few million here and there. These are the kinds of concessions losing teams have to consider — even those as historically mighty as the Lakers.
Why they won’t: Simply having the motivation to move Gasol does not make a deal logistically feasible. There aren’t that many teams in a position to absorb such a substantial salary, and fewer still all that interested in renting out an aging, injured Gasol for the rest of the season. Beyond that, the ranks of potential trade partners dwindle with the fact that the Lakers would want something more than mere expiring contracts in return, demanding that another team be willing to surrender an actual asset for a player who could sign elsewhere in a few months’ time. With all of those factors in play, there are only a few teams that are even worth calling — none of which is especially likely to land Gasol by the deadline.
As for other potential deals, they’ll largely be contingent on L.A.’s willingness to accept little in return for their expiring free agents. There’s room for the Lakers to trim salary if they’re so inclined, but nine of the 15 players on the roster will be free agents at the end of the season. Of those remaining six, Bryant is likely off-limits, Nash might be untradeable due to injury, and Nick Young has a player option for next season (giving him full control of his future). That leaves Kendall Marshall and Robert Sacre as the only tradeable Lakers who won’t be free agents at season’s end, and neither can provide much tax relief on their own as they make the league’s minimum salary. There’s a move to be made if the Lakers are willing to deal Jordan Hill ($3.5 million) for next to nothing, but it remains to be seen if Kupchak would really pull the trigger on a straight salary dump.
Why they will make a move: The Sixers are, logistically speaking, the most accommodating trade partner in the league. By nature of being under the salary cap, they have the ability to take back far more salary in a potential deal than they send out — thus widening the range of potential deals beyond what most teams are able to pursue. Philadelphia is also so far under the cap ($11 million) that it can absorb salary in exchange for draft picks or young players. For those teams looking to squeeze under the luxury tax line, the Sixers roster is a place to park excess salary at the cost of future considerations. That’s big; Cleveland scored a first round pick from Memphis last season under just such an arrangement, and even more teams are interested in skirting the tax this year with the repeater tax penalties looming and those teams under the tax line set to get a nice payday courtesy of Mikhail Prokhorov and friends.
As if that weren’t enough incentive to give Sam Hinkie a call, the Sixers also have three interesting players — Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young — dangling on the line for any who might be interested. Any of the three would take real assets to acquire via trade, though Young and Hawes in particular are worth that price if the fit is just right.
Why they might not: Hinkie has already proven that he won’t make a move simply because one of his players is expendable. Though one of the most-discussed trade targets this season, Young still has another fully guaranteed season under contract with the Sixers before deciding on his early termination option for the 2015-16 season. Turner and Hawes are in a very different spot as upcoming free agents, though Philadelphia has thus far prioritized the quality of its return package over the need to redeem some value from either by the deadline.
It still seems likely that the Sixers will ultimately agree to trade at least one of those three players by Thursday, though I’d fully expect Philadelphia to do so on its own terms or not at all.