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The pursuit of Pau Gasol (starring myself in the role of Sam Smith)

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As I said over the weekend, Peter Vescey may be wrong some (most) of the time, but he is getting information from somewhere. His 'Pau Gasol wants out and perhaps the Bulls are interested' rumor has mushroomed over the past 24 hours and now the word is out of Memphis that Gasol truly wants out, although he's not such a problem yet that he'll be given away. (hat tip to YAYSports)

Just like in the (assumed) case of the Timberwolves, the Grizzlies will want a pick in this coming draft for their franchise player, and one of the few teams that could offer a pick that's more likely to get better than worse after a Gasol acquisition is the Bulls(since the pick isn't their own). I don't see a way a deal gets done without throwing in the pick, and that should be fine from the Bulls point of view, since that pick will mean they can keep some of their existing talent off of the trading table.

The Memphis Flyer's Chris Herrington speculates on what the Bulls could offer, and comes up with this scenario (+ the pick), calling it "the deal that would most maximize future value for the Grizzlies while leaving the Bulls in the best position to make a Finals run this season."

While not something I'd accept as a Bulls fan, at least his heart is in the right place in terms of each team's motivation. The early reports of the Grizzlies asking for Deng and Gordon lost sight of this: there's no point in trading for Gasol unless you're gunning for the title right now, and losing either of those two (arguably their best two this season) mitigates the gain of Gasol to where the team improvement would only be limited.

So take those guys off the table (and the Bulls source who Vescey talked to said as much), and how should the Bulls approach the tradeability of their roster? Let's group:

"The Young Core"
Hinrich/Gordon/Deng
-These guys should be considered untouchable in any Gasol trade. Luckily for the Bulls, Gordon and Deng would likely not be great fits in Memphis anyway, as Herrington mentions "Gordon seems like a poor fit next to Lowry as a backcourt-of-the-future and Deng duplicates Rudy Gay (and, potentially, Kevin Durant)." Hey, if they'd rather not 'block' Kyle Lowry...good luck with that. I feel the popular sentiment turning against grouping Hinrich with these guys, but it sounds like the Bulls deem him as such, which is what really matters.



"Expensive vets signed to long-term contracts"
Wallace/Griffin
-Man, I hope that 3 year deal to A-Drain has some unreported team options peppered in there. Anyway, these are guys that have no value to Memphis, in both age and salary.

"Expiring contracts"
Brown/Sweetney/Allen/MartyVicious/Barrett
- Like pirate gold to NBA GMs. The last two don't make much but could be included just for roster balance without long-term consequence.

"Young-ish pieces with nice contracts"
Nocioni/Khryapa/Duhon
-Nocioni's deal is expiring, and Khryapa and Duhon are signed through next season to relatively little money.  And while they are no longer considered prospects, they are all young enough to where Memphis should be interested in taking them. These 3 can all be bench contributors on a Bulls title team, but I'd have no issues giving any of them up in a deal for Gasol. That may surprise the Noc fan club (or likely not if they read here often), but getting someone who plays like Gasol (a big who needs the ball) makes Noc especially expendable. If Memphis acquired Nocioni they would have right to match offers to him as a restricted free agent (er...I think), so depending on how much they like him they can keep him or let him walk for even more cap space.

"The Rookies"
Thomas/Sefolosha
-This is where things get tricky, and either player (I doubt they'd deal both like in the suggestion from Memphis) could be the make or break to this deal. Memphis would likely be thrilled with either, although obviously more with Thomas. But would dealing Sefolosha leave the Bulls yet again with a too-undersized backcourt? Tyrus is the better talent, but short-term roster questions are what need to be addressed in this trade.

As for Memphis, they want the pick, young cheap players, and long term salary relief. The pick is assumed, and the other two can be paired with eachother: meaning the Bulls can hopefully avoid giving up their better young talent (the core and the rookies) by taking back more of Memphis' salary obligations.

Here's a list of Grizzlies veterans and their contracts:

Player   2006 2007 2008 2009
Eddie Jones  $15,697,500      
Pau Gasol  $12,364,000 $13,735,000 $15,106,000 $16,452,000
Mike Miller  $7,623,813 $8,376,194 $9,128,575 $9,880,937
Brian Cardinal  $5,400,000 $5,850,000 $6,300,000 $6,750,000
Stromile Swift  $5,400,000 $5,800,000 $6,200,000 (PO)  
Damon Stoudamire  $4,050,000 $4,350,000 $4,650,000  
Chucky Atkins  $3,000,000      
Jake Tsakalidis  $2,900,000      
Dahntay Jones  $1,886,113      
Hakim Warrick  $1,286,280 $1,376,040 $2,119,102  

(I included Jones and Warrick since they've been mentioned in speculated deals)

Keeping in mind that their max-contract obligation to Gasol would now be wiped off the books and Jones' deal will undoubtedly be allowed to expire, the Bulls can further offer salary relief by taking back any of Miller, Cardinal, Swift, or Stoudamire. A way to approach who to take is to consider how each can match up position-wise with rotation guys the Bulls would be willing to give up, especially Cardinal (Nocioni) and Stoudamire (Duhon). It's not like these guys were stiffs on Memphis, if they were in the East the past couple seasons you could be looking at conference finalists.

Sure there may be situations where you're accepting older, more expensive players that are worse than what's on the Bulls bench right now, but I think that's absolutely worth doing if it means keeping someone like Tyrus or Thabo out of the deal. If the Bulls balk at taking on such long term salary (for instance taking Atkins instead of Stoudamire) then they may have to include either rookie. You'd hope that Memphis would then in exchange throw in a lesser-talented young&cheap counterpart such as Warrick (for Thomas) or Jones (for Thabo). 

And maybe that's enough to ease the sting of giving up a rookie, but if I were the Bulls I'd first try and take all the salary I could without giving up on them. The vets would help the Bulls and get Memphis outstanding cap flexiblity and likely 2 lottery picks in the coming draft. Whatever golden situation the Bulls put them in should be of no concern to Bulls fans, even if they draft Oden and Durant and have $20m in cap room this offseason.

It comes down to how complete you'd think Gasol would make the roster, and I'd say his skillset combined with his age (only 26) makes him an ideal addition, and a starting 5 of Hinrich/Gordon/Deng/Gasol/Wallace would have the Bulls not only competing for the East crown, but head-and-shoulders above the field. With cap flexibility likely at it's pinnacle this trading deadline (before contracts expire and extensions kick in), the time to strike is now, and Gasol is one of the few players I'd aggressively pursue if I was Paxson.

(And of course how could I go through this without a final trade machine-generated scenario? With both trade packages including the pick, my ideal trade would be something like this (or this), although I guess I'd settle for this.)