|With the Lakers struggling mightily in a tough West, Gasol–whose contract expires after this season–is suddenly expendable, and a contender like the Suns could use him|
The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns both have had very different 2013-14 seasons then they were predicted to, one team in a bad way and another in a good way.
The Lakers, long the class of the Western Conference, have been riddled with injuries, as Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have played in just six games apiece while other point guard options — Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar — have each been sidelined for an extended period of time, forcing Los Angeles to sign Kendall Marshall as an emergency fill-in.
That sheer amount of games missed by key players is a major reason as to why the Lakers have struggled so much, noted by the six-game losing skid they're riding and their 3-12 record in January.
On the other hand, under new coach Jeff Hornacek, the Suns are grossly overperforming preseason expectations that put them at around 25-30 wins, a mark they are right at with 29 wins (to go with 18 losses).
Phoenix is 6-1 in its last seven games. The Suns have been winning their way through the Eastern Conference without Eric Bledsoe — out with a knee injury since December 30th — who is probably their best scorer. Instead, journeymen like Goran Dragic–the Western Conference Player of the Week — Channing Frye and Gerald Green (along with the Morris brothers, of course) have led the way.
Still, as the current No. 6 seed in the West, the Suns have an upward battle ahead of them if they want to seriously contend down the regular season stretch.
That is where Gasol comes into play.
As of right now, Phoenix does not have enough healthy pieces — Bledsoe's return this season is questionable and the timetable is unknown — to stick with the L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the other high-powered teams in its conference.
If you add Pau into the mix, though, that dynamic certainly changes. He is not a dominant force anymore, but he provides a talented 7-foot interior presence that's rare in this league nowadays.
Phoenix, with around $5.6 million in cap space according to this ESPN.com report, has some room to potentially swap Emeka Okafor — an expiring contract picked up this summer from the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade — for Gasol. In that case, the Suns' cap space would cover the salary difference between the two, making the deal amenable to both sides.
A possible trade still has not come to total fruition, but with Phoenix now aggressively pursuing such an avenue and the trade deadline less than two weeks away, it most likely isn't very far. If it ends up getting done, the Suns will be a much better team than they are right now, which means trouble for the rest of the West.