The Los Angeles Lakers were projected to have a down season after losing Dwight Howard during free agency. Kobe Bryant''s recovery from a torn Achilles and Steve Nash's health in his second go with the team were also big questions facing the team and the fans who were wondering just how bad the team would be.
Bryant has played a total of six games so far this year, suffering a knee fracture just days after returning to the basketball court. Nash reached the 10-game mark after his nerve root irritation sidelined him for months and is back to square one, on a day-to-day basis with the same issues.
The result? Los Angeles is 18-35 at the All-Star Break and in second-to-last place in the Western Conference. The bottom has fallen out for the Lakers. All that's left is to wonder what general manager Mitch Kupchak's next move might be.
Here we Go-sol again
Another year, another trade deadline that's centered around Pau Gasol for the Lakers. Their starting center has been at the center of trade rumors for years, and nothing has changed.
More on Gasol
More on Gasol
The Lakers were linked to a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers structured around Andrew Bynum's non-guaranteed contract, but the Cavaliers were reportedly reluctant to part with any other future assets to land the former All-Star frontcourt player. Los Angeles didn't settle for a salary dump for Gasol, and the Chicago Bulls ultimately traded Luol Deng to Cleveland for the cap relief.
Recent rumors suggest that the Phoenix Suns could be a likely trade partner, though talks died down between the two sides after the Lakers' demands were beyond the Suns' expectations. Phoenix is loaded with 2014 first-round draft picks, but which picks they'll be interested in trading -- and what the market is for other available players -- could lead the Suns to seeking out the best package possible until the deadline.
What's certain about Gasol is that his contract expires when the Lakers finish trudging through their injury-riddled 82-game season, and it seems unlikely the team will be interested in re-signing him. The Lakers wanted more than flat salary relief previously, but when the deadline comes, that may be all they can receive for the two-time champion.
Gasol was "traded" once and is involved in this sort of back-and-forth rumor mongering annually. Now? He's emotionally and mentally ready for whatever the outcome may be, as he told reporters during the Lakers' final practice before the All-Star Break:
"I've been mentally ready more or less and emotionally ready for a while now ... for three years now," Gasol said, chuckling, not needing to remind everybody that the Lakers were ready to send him to Houston as part of the vetoed three-team Chris Paul trade in December 2011.
"As we get close to it, I'm sure things will heat up at some point and we'll see if they actually fall through or they don't. Either way, I'll be ready and once that date kind of passes, just finish off the season strong and see where I'm at."
The other guys
Gasol is the big fish on the Lakers' roster, but Kupchak could be interested in flipping some of the other players who don't have a long-term place with the team. Big man Jordan Hill, a low-usage player who spends his minutes cleaning the glass on an expiring $3.5 million contract, could be a good asset to a team in need of frontcourt help. He's having a career-year even in his low minute load, averaging 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He's the Lakers' most effective rebounder, grabbing a team-high 18.9 percent of all available rebounds according to Basketball-Reference.
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More on the Lakers
Keeping in the theme of the Lakers' frontcourt pieces, Chris Kaman could also be an easy sell to a team in need of a backup center. He's played minimally this season, is on a $3.1 million expiring contract, and is averaging 18.3 points and 8.0 rebounds through February.
Another interesting role player to consider trading would be Jodie Meeks, who is also enjoying a career-best season after floundering in his first year with LA. He's on a $1.5 million expiring contract and averaging 14.4 points per game while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Beyond Meeks, Hill and Kaman, there aren't many palatable options to dangle in trade discussions. Maybe Steve Blake, who's had his best season as a Laker and is averaging a career-high 7.6 assists per game, could be another asset to tack into a package. Overall, however, the Lakers just don't have much to offer teams.
Do the Lakers need to make moves? No, they can stand pat and let the season tick away. But if there's any way for Kupchak to acquire an asset -- whether it be draft picks or long-term players -- there's no reason the team should shy away from considering a move for the future.