Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman

There’s a huge difference this season about how the Los Angeles Lakers are approaching the trade deadline. Instead of trying to add a piece that improves them, their about setting themselves up for the future with draft picks and more space under the salary cap. For that to happen, moving Pau Gasol and/or Chris Kaman seems like their main objective.

And why not? The Lakers are tied for the last-place in the Western Conference at 18-35, which means not making the playoffs for the first time since 2005. They’ve been crippled by injuries as much or even more than any other team in the NBA, and even with everyone healthy it didn’t seem like there was much of a chance to finish in the top 8. Their salary cap situation isn’t great going into next season, despite having only three players signed.

Kobe Bryant with $23.5 million, Steve Nash with just over $9 million and Nick Young with $1.2 million. The Lakers also have Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall tied up for a combined $1.8 million next season, but the picture is clear. Not a lot of players, but not that much money to vastly improve if the Lakers are planning on making the big move they’re known to make. With their sights set on 2015 as the year in which they get that big name (unless Anthony or LeBron James become available this summer), the draft is what they’re hoping will take them forward.

And the Lakers being a lottery team, as rare of an occasion as it seems, might be the step towards a new, healthy team, waiting for the moment Kobe Bryant is finally off the books. But for that to happen, they need more draft picks. Their desire to get more than straight up trades with both the Cavs and the Suns kept Gasol on the team, while they lost their chance of improving their cap situation and luxury tax payments for this season alone, something they showed means something to them by releasing Metta World Peace when the year began.

Gasol has a market out there, but the teams that can do something with him are limited. He’s a $19.3 million cap hit, and then he becomes a free agent. While clearing cap space is important, expiring contracts are not as popular as they used to be. The Lakers don’t want to take back any deals that go on beyond this season, which limits them in that aspect. Chris Kaman, making $3.1 million, is easier to move, and his productivity in recent games has certainly made him a bit more easier to shop. However, the Lakers won’t be getting anything more than a second-round draft pick for him and some cap relief.

Moving Pau Gasol, another thing the Lakers, in hindsight at least, should have done a long time ago, is going to be a lot more difficult in the remaining few days.

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