Suns want to see Pau Gasol back from injury before escalating trade talks with Lakers

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The Suns and Lakers engaged in preliminary trade talks on a deal centered around Pau Gasol over the weekend, and continued those discussions again on Monday.

The primary holdup at this point (at least on the Suns’ side) appears to be the health of Gasol, who is expected to miss at least a week with a strained groin injury.

Phoenix has a surplus of draft picks and an insurance-paid expiring contract of Emeka Okafor to deal, both of which are enticing to teams looking to rebuild or simply cut salary.

The Lakers fall into the latter category, and while this deal would seem to make some sense for both teams, each is likely to have additional options to consider as the trade deadline approaches.

From Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

Sources told ESPN.com that, while there is substantive interest on both sides, it’s believed Suns officials want to see how Gasol recovers from a strained groin before deciding whether to take talks to the next level. …

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million. A trade for Okafor’s expiring deal would save the Lakers $4.8 million, taking them less than $3 million away from the league’s luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.

Because the trade would not bring the Lakers all the way under the luxury tax, sources said L.A. remains insistent on getting back draft picks or young players in addition to salary cap savings for the 33-year-old Gasol.

The last part is key for the Lakers, at least in terms of being able to sell this deal to a fan base used to competing for championships.

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Getting out of luxury tax territory this season would be huge for L.A. moving forward, given the much more punitive repeater tax built into the latest collective bargaining agreement; it would help hasten the rebuilding process without question. But fans are already flipping out about trading Gasol for someone who won’t even play in Okafor, so a draft pick at minimum is needed for the organization to be able to say that sending Gasol out of town was about more than simply dollars.

Gasol hasn’t been utilized properly over his last two seasons in L.A., but his skill set is clearly intact. If he can get healthy and stay that way, an All-Star season isn’t out of the question in a future situation. The Suns clearly recognize this, and would have the cap space to sign Gasol this summer if that’s the way they decide to go. But Phoenix is likely to get plenty of other offers before Feb. 20, so taking the cautious route with this one appears to be the right approach.