Pau Gasol

Due to their unexpected success which might get them into the playoffs, the Phoenix Suns are suddenly in the market for a player who can help them achieve that new goal, and are looking at Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers as a potential trade target.

The deal on the table right now according to ESPN is sending Emeka Okafor, who has been with the Suns since the beginning of the season but hasn’t played a single game, to the Lakers while Gasol goes the other ways. Okafor’s cap hit is $14.5 million while Gasol’s is $19.3 million, but the Suns have $5.6 million in available salary-cap space. Both players are free agents at the end of the season.

For the Lakers this makes sense in terms of finances: The $4.8 million difference between Gasol’s cap number and Okafor’s would immediately drop the Lakers less than $3 million away from the league’s luxury-tax threshold; more savings are coming because insurance began picking up 80% of what remains on Okafor’s contract once Phoenix passed this season’s 41-game midpoint: In short, it means saving more than $5 million for whoever picks up Okafor for the rest of the season.

The 29-18 start for the Suns, playing without Eric Bledsoe for just over a month, has changed their way of thinking this season, which began as a year of tanking on paper. They’re suddenly looking for good players who can help them make the playoff push, but hopefully not hurt their cap flexibility in the offseason. Few players with Gasol’s pedigree, not to mention numbers (20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds in January) fit that description.

The question that remains in making this deal go forward is if the Lakers ask for something more from the Suns. They wavered on a deal with the Cavs last month that included Gasol switching spots for Andrew Bynum that would have saved them a lot of money, but insisted on getting another player and not just financial benefits.

Like the Cavs, the Suns aren’t really looking forward to part with one of their young players who seem to have blossomed under Jeff Hornacek, so if the Lakers push for more than just Okafor in this deal, it’s not going to happen. As for Gasol and his future, the Suns might have a chance to evaluate him and see if he’s worth giving a new deal if he works out for them, but the most important part of this deal is that he doesn’t hurt their future plans with his expiring contract, coming in handy only for the short term.

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