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Making sense of this Gasol- to-Lakers trade
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Pau Gasol, left, and Kobe Bryant are now teammates. Memphis traded Gasol to the L.A. Lakers on Friday.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 2/2/2008 12:28 AM

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Let's try to get this straight.

A year ago at the trade deadline, the Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies couldn't make a deal for 7-footer Pau Gasol because the Bulls refused to include Luol Deng.

Last summer, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace flew all the way to Buenos Aires to make a face-to-face recruiting pitch to restricted free agent Andres Nocioni. But Wallace wasn't interested in discussing any sign-and-trade scenarios that would send the Gasol to the Bulls for Nocioni.

So after all that, Memphis gave Gasol, 27, to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday for one middling prospect and a couple of low draft picks.

How does that make sense? Well, it really doesn't, but a crystal ball isn't necessary to see what's going on here.

The Grizzlies are 13-33, drawing few fans in a small market and losing millions by the dozen. Owner Michael Heisley, a resident of St. Charles, must have decided there is no point paying Gasol's huge salary if he's doing nothing to help the team win. So the $49 million owed to Gasol for the next three seasons is off the books completely.

Couldn't the Bulls have gotten Gasol at the same discount price? Yeah, probably.

The Bulls thought they had a deal for Gasol a few weeks ago involving Nocioni and some other pieces, but it fell through when Memphis wanted the Bulls to take on an additional bad contract.

The complete Lakers deal sent Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, all-but-retired guard Aaron McKie, the rights to Gasol's brother Marc and two first-round picks to Memphis.

Brown is nothing but an expiring contract. The top pick of the 2001 draft has been a huge disappointment and carries almost no value. Crittenton, a 6-5 guard, was the No. 19 pick of last year's draft and has played sparingly as a rookie. Marc Gasol is a project who may stay in Europe.

The Bulls might have been able to match the offer by using retired forward P.J. Brown as part of a trade, along with expiring contracts like Chris Duhon and Viktor Khryapa.

Simply put, the Bulls aren't in position to take on Gasol because they already have an inflated payroll. Next season, they are committed to paying Ben Wallace $14.5 million, Kirk Hinrich $10 million and Nocioni around $7.5 million. Assuming they re-sign restricted free agents Deng and Ben Gordon to deals starting at $10 million, that makes $52 million committed to five players.

Add Gasol's $15.1 million salary, and the Bulls would be moving well beyond the current luxury-tax threshold of $67.9 million, unless they were able to unload some payroll somehow.

Bulls general manager John Paxson declined to comment Friday.

The Lakers obviously aren't afraid of paying the luxury tax because Gasol gives them $75.3 million in salary commitments next season and a probable tax bill of $6 million to $8 million.

Should Bulls fans be upset about missing out on Gasol? Hard to say. Obviously, Bulls management wasn't happy about the turn of events.

The Bulls acquired P.J. Brown last year for Tyson Chandler with the hope of trading Brown's expiring contract for someone like Gasol. Memphis wouldn't accept such a deal last February, but it did Friday. Go figure.

Keep in mind that the Bulls were never convinced that Gasol (18.9 points, 8.8 rebounds) was the final piece to a championship puzzle. He's been injury prone and is not regarded as a strong defender. He led the Grizzlies to the playoff three times, but they went 0-12 during three first-round sweeps.

How Gasol fits on a Lakers front line with Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum will be interesting to see.

Will the Bulls make a significant move before the Feb. 21 trade deadline? Doubtful. Gasol is off the market, and the Bulls don't appear to be in the running for unhappy New Jersey guard Jason Kidd.

The summer will be more conducive to a roster shake-up.