It is absolutely not a secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are listening to offers for Pau Gasol. Since Gasol’s ascension to the upper ranks of NBA big men, there have been solicitations. But the subtle differentiation is that the Lakers are not-so-quietly shopping Gasol, weighing options that include Atlanta’s Josh Smith and an Andrea Bargnani/Jose Calderon package from the Toronto Raptors.
Neither of those offers would get the Lakers what they need to help head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense run as intended, however. In Ersan Ilyasova, the Bucks hold the three-point shooting, role playing big man that would space the floor for the stars of the Lakeshow.
I posed some questions to Preston and K L about the logistics of an Ersan-for-Pau trade, or any trade that may work for Milwaukee at this point in the season, and added some opinions of my own. Look below for our insights, and cross your fingers that we are right or wrong, depending on your general managing acumen:
1) Ilyasova had a rough start to the season which led to his benching before the second half of a back-to-back against the Bulls at the end of November. Although he hasn’t quite regained his long-range stroke, Ersan has played well from his reserve position, shooting over 45 percent in five of the eight games since his demotion. With Pau Gasol on the trading block, is it time to sell Ilyasova’s stock while it’s still relatively high?
Preston: First, I’ll just say this: The Bucks don’t sell high on players. Period. The Bucks could have sold ridiculously high on Ersan at last season’s trade deadline, but they chose to make a “win-now” trade instead – shipping out an injured Andrew Bogut and a maligned Stephen Jackson for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown[’s expiring contract]. They sold low on Bogut and even lower on Jackson. This has become trend.
Let’s look at every player Hammond has traded in his tenure here: Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons, Mo Williams, Desmond Mason, Tyronn Lue, Richard Jefferson, Fabricio Oberto, Malik Allen, Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, Jerome Jordan, Hakim Warrick, Joe Alexander, Jodie Meeks, Francisco Elson, Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Darnell Jackson, Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Keyon Dooling, Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston, Jon Leuer and Jon Brockman.
Do you remember Hammond selling high on any of these players?
So, if the Bucks trade Ilyasova, history tells us it’s going to be when he’s underachieving and not contributing to wins. They’re not going to trade him when he’s at the top of his game; such is the life of a mediocre small market team continually shooting for – and unwilling to give up on – a playoff berth.
With that lengthy precondition in mind, the Bucks probably aren’t going to get great value for Ilyasova if and when they choose to flip him. Right now, Pau Gasol would probably be the most appealing realistic return. The Lakers could certainly use Ilyasova’s ability to space the floor, which we’ve yet to see this year, to let Dwight Howard operate with more space in the post. However, I think the Lakers would consider it more because of Gasol’s contract and injury concerns than Ilyasova’s abilities. Gasol is set to make around $38 million over this season and next, while he continues the ongoing battle with tendinitis in his knees.
I also think it takes more than Ilyasova – if not value-wise, it certainly will salary-wise – to snag Gasol in a trade, and I wouldn’t advocate moving any of Milwaukee’s young talent for a 32-year-old on the downside of his productive career.
In short, I don’t think it’s time to trade Ersan. There’s absolutely no reason to sell low on a guy who is locked up for the next five years and will almost certainly improve as the year goes on. Gasol’s still a great player, but the same concerns Los Angeles have would only be magnified in Milwaukee.
K L: Normally, I would say no. Ilyasova is the younger player and he’ll be the better player in a few years. The Bucks aren’t going deep into the playoffs before then anyway.
But having said that, Ersan poses a few problems for the Bucks. First, he plays like an older player. I don’t know if that’s an understated age issue or just being less athletic than the average NBAer. If his athleticism erodes, his defense and rebounding talents could drop off a cliff (and a non-fiscal one at that) a la Troy Murphy. Three-plus years is a long time to hold on to the hope that they don’t.
Of course, Gasol’s athleticism is already gone. Years of spring playoff basketball followed by summer international play have stolen the flexibility in his knees. However, Gasol is bigger and more polished than Ersan; men of his size can play into their late-30s. Pau could get by on his hands and his smarts and his post skills and still bring a different level of talent than anything the Bucks have seen for a while.
It could be a good trade for the Bucks, but I don’t see them being able to match each other’s needs with the pieces they have on their rosters.
Alex: Ilyasova is still on an upward career trajectory, while Gasol is entering the autumn of his career. Anyone who has given even a cursory glance at the Bucks roster knows that there is an excess of forwards and a lack of guard depth. Acquiring Gasol would certainly take more pieces than Ilyasova, and depending on who would be included in such a package, there could be alleviation for or more disparity between the positional numbers.
If there were a time to get worthwhile returns for Ersan, it is now. Even if his production will slip in the coming years, Gasol is still worthwhile — and for more than what he, individually, brings to the basketball court. He was an All-Star as recently as 2011 and other players recognize that. Flipping Ilyasova for Gasol would give the Bucks franchise a new sheen. There is a chance that, while he can still be the star of a team, the possibility of playing with Gasol could draw better free agents to a small market that they may not consider calling home otherwise.
This is an edge that Ilyasova does not offer, and likely never will. While Gasol’s play will only be reliable for another few years since he is already 32, bringing him in can attract other players who — if properly contracted — can benefit Milwaukee for a longer term.
If the trigger is to be pulled, that is the reason. Not because Gasol will make the Bucks a championship contender, but because he can be used as a building block in the short-term that could set up success in the future. Contingent upon Hammond’s ability to keep Pau longer than the length of his current contract, if there is a way to make the contracts balance without sacrificing too much young talent, it’s a trade I would co-sign.
2) What kind of package could/should the Bucks’ front office put together in order to flip Ilyasova for Gasol?
Preston: The only way I would endorse trading Ilyasova at this point is if the deal also sends out Monta Ellis and Drew Gooden*. (I put an asterisk, because I would prefer for Milwaukee to utilize the amnesty clause on Gooden’s contract rather than take on additional long-term salary just to move him, though it appears the front office is unwilling to do this).
If the Bucks choose to move Ilyasova for Gasol, they will have to match the $19 million salary of Gasol or get a third team involved. To match salaries, the Bucks would probably include a combination of their higher-paid veterans – such as Beno Udrih, Samuel Dalembert, Gooden and Ellis. I’d imagine the Lakers would also seek one of Milwaukee’s young big men in return, while the Bucks would pursue some much-needed wing depth.
Other than that, I think the Bucks should always look for a package that includes incoming draft picks or young players with apparent upside and talent. A trade for Gasol doesn’t render itself to this type of return, however.
K L: The Lakers may value Ilyasova higher than most teams. Dwight Howard has always played best beside the Ersan-type players. He did it first with Rashard Lewis, then again with Ryan Anderson. If Pau goes out, the player who steps in should be able to space the floor and give Howard room in the paint.
I can’t wrap my head around any deal for Gasol — who is slated to make around $19 million this season and next — unless it ships out nearly the same amount of salary from the Bucks’ 2013-14 payroll, i.e., next season. For the Bucks, that means that including Drew Gooden in the trade is a must. Could the Lakers see that as palatable? Their depth is wretched — Gooden could actually crack that rotation, I think. But the Lakers can’t take on two large and long contracts just to get rid of two years of Pau.
The biggest problem holding up a trade? Beno Udrih could be used in place of Gooden in a deal, but Udrih is a free agent after this year. I could totally see the Lakers insisting Beno’s inclusion, but if he is part of the trade then the Bucks would have to add too much additional salary to their books next season for a trade to make sense. For that reason, I don’t think the deal gets done.
If it does get done, I think it looks like this: Pau Gasol to Milwaukee for Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih, and Ersan Ilyasova.
Alex: Drew Gooden could absolutely get playing time for the Lakers right now and he is the biggest blight in the Bucks’ ledger at the moment. The trio of Ilyasova/Gooden/Dunleavy would give the Lakers two long, big contracts, but it would also give them two shooters that could make room for Dwight Howard and even Kobe Bryant in the post. Dunleavy’s on a one-year contract, but could probably be persuaded to stick around Los Angeles if Lakers management can keep Howard around longer than this season.
It does clear up the Bucks’ front court while maintaining young guys like Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, but it leaves Scott Skiles playing multiple power forwards simultaneously. Dunleavy’s absence would lead to a dip in reserve scoring, not to mention damage the identity and continuity of the bench. Freeing up playing minutes in the front court for a 32-year-old who has been missing games due to knee tendinitis is not good fit, but it does offer minutes for young talent to develop. Plus, no more Gooden, amiright?
3) At this point, is there any realistic trade — aside from Pau-to-Milwaukee — that you would endorse?
Preston: I would probably endorse any trade that ships out Monta Ellis. The Bucks are playing with fire here. If they neglect to move him, there will be two likely outcomes: A) Ellis improves his play this season and opts-out of the final year of his contract, or B) Ellis continues to struggle and opts-in to the final year of his contract.
In scenario A, the Bucks would fail to maximize a major piece from the Andrew Bogut trade. Although the ensuing cap space from an Ellis opt-out ($11 million) would be a nice bonus, there’s no telling how the Bucks will use it. They will need to hit a salary floor mandated by the CBA, so that money will be spent one way or another. Further, it would basically turn last year’s trade into Andrew Bogut for Ekpe Udoh and loads of cap space. Most importantly, if Ellis really improves his performance, the Bucks will probably make the playoffs. Then, however, they will lose a key component to their success. If there’s one thing we learned from the “Fear the Deer” season, it’s that sustainable success is hard to come by. It’s even harder when a key contributor walks away.
The consequences of scenario B are self-explanatory and amply apparent when watching the Bucks right now.
K L: A realistic one I would endorse? I don’t know about that.
But here’s one that I could see happening: The Bucks are overloaded at forward and they need to add guards. Unless a multi-team opportunity arises, trading Gooden for a guard doesn’t work — there aren’t a whole lot of veteran scrapheap guards with contracts like his. John Hammond won’t be able to find a suitable partner with whom to swap bad deals.
So instead, the Bucks could dig into their pool of bigs and trade with Brooklyn. The Nets configured a Big Three over the past offseason based around the monstrous contracts of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace. But they need help in the middle. Kris Humphries, Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans do some things well, but none of those things are rim protection. Brook Lopez gets hurt too much. And Brooklyn has a young guard who played a lot last year before getting buried behind The Contracts: MarShon Brooks.
Brooks isn’t a world beater (see, for example, what Monta Ellis did to him in the low post last week), but he’s young, cheap, experienced and he would provide Milwaukee with a low-cost hedge against one (or both) of the Jennings and Ellis tandem moving on after this season. He would also give them some badly needed depth this season.
Somehow, though, the Bucks’ young bigs — Tobias Harris, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, and John Henson — all feel more valuable than Brooks. But to make the teams more balanced, I could see a Tobias Harris for MarShon Brooks trade getting done.
Alex: Aside from acquiring Gasol, anything that maximizes Monta Ellis’ contract before he walks (as I think he will) or jettisons Gooden’s largely DNP-based salary is favorable. That’s where the realistic part kicks in, though…