Report: Phoenix Suns a hot trade target, starting with the Los Angeles Lakers and Pau Gasol

Chris Graythen

The Lakers would not trade Gasol to Cleveland for just Bynum. They wanted a draft pick too. But the Suns won't give anything up but Okafor, so it's up to the Lakers to lower their demands and the Suns to fail to find anything better.

The Phoenix Suns own a trade chip large enough to save a struggling team from paying oodles and oodles of luxury taxes this season.

Emeka Okafor is out for the season, but his $14.5 million expiring contract is 80% paid by insurance for the remainder of the season. Couple that with another $5 million in open cap space, and the Suns have the ability to save someone millions of dollars of salary expenses AND reduce their cap number below the luxury tax threshold.

That's why you heard about a possible Pau Gasol trade yesterday, for nothing more than Okafor's contract and the Suns' cap space.

Gasol makes $19.285 million this season in the last season of his deal. The Lakers have sunk to the third worst team in the West and project to drop all the way to the bottom of the West WITH Gasol.

So why trade him for nothing? Two reasons:

  • A trade for Okafor would save the Lakers $6-7 million in real salary dollars plus the luxury tax multiplier
  • Another small trade to dump salary (about $3 million) would drop the Lakers below the lux tax threshold entirely, freeing them from the spectre of the 'repeater tax' in future seasons and saving even more money this season
  • Being worst in the West still only gets you the 4th or 5th pick in the draft. The Lakers would be better served going worse than 13-22 the rest of the way (which is their current projection)

But that doesn't mean the Suns really want Gasol. It means the Lakers really want the Suns to want Gasol.

According to John Gambodoro of ArizonaSports.com and KTAR (620 AM and 98.7 FM) who's been clued in to the Suns for years, Gasol is one of a number of options the Suns are considering.

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Lots of teams want to save money and get under that tax threshold. The Lakers are just one of them.

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Gambo's not a mathematician and never purported to be, but he hit on the reason for the trade: money. Between the savings they are currently getting on Okafor (80% paid by insurance) that would go away, plus the extra $5 million in cap space used up, I'd guess Gasol would be at least a $10 million half-season rental difference from Okafor.

Sounds like Suns owner Robert Sarver is willing to spend money to make a good playoff run.

But the Suns would rather get something better than a half-season rental that might not get them further in the playoffs than they currently can get.

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They'd rather get a young star who they could lock up for years. Someone like Kevin Love. But Love probably won't be available until after the season. Minnesota still projects to finish strong, though they keep finding ways to lose too many games.

In the meantime, expect a lot more rumors out there over the next 2.5 weeks as teams want to use up the Suns' $20 million in cap space (Okafor + $5 million in free space) and get a first rounder or two back in the process.

if the trade is lopsided toward the other team, it was likely leaked by that team or the player's agent. Don't assume everything you read is actually being hotly considered by the Suns as reported.

But they DO want to do something. If you want to be the oracle, start looking at struggling teams' expiring contracts or really good players on fairly short deals. I'm still a fan of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, for example, in case Chicago wants to clear the books.

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