In the absence of Nash and Blake, the Lakers need point-guard help, too. But several playmakers who'd be a natural fit for D'Antoni -- Luke Ridnour, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Ramon Sessions and Sebastian Telfair among them -- will be difficult for the Lakers to procure with their limited trade assets. Those trade assets are limited, that is, until Gasol enters the discussion.
Gasol is 32, has two sore knees and is off to the worst start of his career from a field-goal shooting standpoint (42 percent) and a scoring standpoint (on both a per-game and per-minute basis). He's also owed $19.3 million next season.
The Lakers have nearly $80 million on the books for next season, the first year of the escalated luxury tax. (And that's before re-signing Howard.) But they also have a $3 billion local TV deal, so they're a rare breed in the NBA's new financial landscape in that they could actually afford to send out Gasol's $19 million and take back more salary -- up to 125 percent plus $100,000 under revised league trade rules. In addition to the $5 million the Lakers can take back in a lopsided trade, they have three small trade exceptions ($544,000, $854,000 and $1.17 million) that could sweeten the pot.
All of this could facilitate Gasol being shipped to a contender looking to boost its playoff chances, or a team on the bubble looking to make the playoffs. In either case, the gravy for the Lakers' trade partner would be sending out more salary than it got back.
Rival executives believe the most likely landing spot for Gasol is Toronto, which could offer Andrea Bargnani in return and bolster the Lakers' point-guard deficiency with Jose Calderon, who is backing up Kyle Lowry. Sources say Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has shown no willingness to part with Bargnani, but if pressure mounts for him to bolster the team's youth movement and win now by adding a veteran with All-Star credentials like Gasol, that could change.
On one hand, if Lakers fans thought Gasol was soft, wait until they get a load of Bargnani. But he's younger (27), makes half as much (though he has one more year on his deal) and would be the ideal floor-spacer to open the middle for Howard, who is uncomfortable sharing the low block. Gasol fancies himself a post player, and his range is decidedly less than Bargnani's, which makes him uneasy when pushed far out on the perimeter.