The Los Angeles Lakers, largely at the behest of general manager Mitch Kupchak, have rebuffed trade inquiries from at least two teams for Pau Gasol, according to sources with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking.
The Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves have both recently tried to engage the Lakers in trade discussions for Gasol, sources told ESPN.com, but the Lakers continue to tell teams that call that they will not consider dealing the Spaniard until L.A. can fully assess its roster after the return of injured point guard Steve Nash.
Trade speculation involving Gasol nonetheless shows little sign of abating, even as the 32-year-old is being held out of the lineup to combat a worsening bout of knee tendinitis. Gasol has not been shelved because a deal is imminent, sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com Tuesday, but Kupchak has advised Gasol's representatives that the Lakers will have no choice but to start exploring a trade if the former All-Star is unable to eventually adjust to D'Antoni's system.
D'Antoni took the job Nov. 11, knowing he wouldn't have the benefit of training camp, when the Lakers made the third-fastest coaching change in NBA history by firing Mike Brown five games into the season.
Stretch power forward Andrea Bargnani, veteran point guard Jose Calderon and fellow vet Linas Kleiza are among the players, sources say, whom the Raptors have discussed making available to the Lakers in a deal for Gasol. It's an open secret around the league, meanwhile, that Timberwolves general manager David Kahn has been trying since last season to acquire Gasol to join fellow Spaniard Ricky Rubio in a three-man core with All-Star forward Kevin Love, but sources say the Lakers continue to resist Minnesota's attempts to build a trade offer around 2011's No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams and center Nikola Pekovic.
CBSSports.com reported Wednesday that there's a growing belief among rival executives that Toronto has emerged as the most likely landing spot for Gasol, given Bargnani's potential as a floor-spacing frontcourt partner to Dwight Howard and the boost Calderon could give a thin backcourt. Nash has only played a game and a half this season thanks to the 38-year-old's fractured fibula, and Steve Blake will miss the next six to eight weeks after abdominal surgery.
It is widely presumed around the league that Howard's former Orlando teammate Ryan Anderson, now in New Orleans, is the Lakers' No. 1 trade target if they were to consent to dealing Gasol. But sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Anderson is regarded as a virtual untouchable by the Hornets, given that the 24-year-old is not only a highly competent stretch power forward signed to a comparatively reasonable four-year contract but also because Anderson has proved to be an underrated rebounder. Rebounding and defense have long been areas of concern with Bargnani, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft.
Bargnani, though, is only 27 and can supply the sort of long-range shooting that Gasol, even when healthy, cannot. D'Antoni and the Phoenix Suns enjoyed considerable success when Nash combined with one pick-and-rolling inside force -- Amar'e Stoudemire -- and was otherwise surrounded by a plethora of shooters. The Suns, though, didn't function nearly as smoothly when they traded for Shaquille O'Neal and suddenly had to accommodate two scorers who head for the rim.
The Atlanta Hawks have also been frequently mentioned as potential trade partners in a Gasol deal, most notably by Lakers legend Magic Johnson on an early season episode of "NBA Countdown." But ESPN.com reported earlier this month that the Hawks, on schedule to have major salary-cap space in July 2013, currently have no interest in parting with free agent-to-be Josh Smith in a trade for a player five years older and with Gasol struggling with knee trouble and scheduled to earn $19.3 million next season.
Gasol has two sore knees and is off to the worst start of his career in terms of shooting (42 percent from the field) and scoring (on both a per-game and per-minute basis). Yet he continues to be the subject of more trade speculation than virtually any other marquee player in the NBA, which has been a fact of daily life for Gasol ever since he was included by the Lakers in a four-team deal last December that would have netted Chris Paul. NBA commissioner David Stern -- saying he was acting as New Orleans' owner at the time because the league still owned the Hornets at that stage -- told New Orleans' basketball people to cancel the trade.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported this week that some league executives believe Gasol will be difficult to trade because of his age, health, declining production and the high-dollar amount of his salary next season. Sources told Broussard that Atlanta and the Houston Rockets, two clubs long linked to Gasol, no longer have interest in acquiring him. The same, sources told Broussard, holds for the Denver Nuggets, who possess multiple players who would appear to fit D'Antoni's system well.
If the Lakers eventually do decide to deal Gasol, it will be over the strong objection of Kobe Bryant, who on Tuesday offered his strongest public support to date to back the 7-footer with whom he has won two NBA championships.
"I love Pau like a brother," Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Tuesday before the Lakers' loss in Houston. "I really do. I want him to dominate like I know he can.
"I want him to dig in and be determined, not discouraged," Bryant continued. "We should go to him more on the post because he can dominate from there as he has to the tune of two rings. I'm sure we will adjust and figure out a balance when he comes back healthy."
The two veterans had a lengthy summit Monday night at the team hotel in Houston.
"I know his knees have been hurting and that can be frustrating because you can't do physically what you are used to," Bryant said. "I just don't want him to sulk about the change of things."