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Report: Lakers, Cavs struggle to find Bynum-Gasol deal without leverage

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

Pau Gasol is involved in trade talks for Andrew Bynum. (USATSI)
Pau Gasol is involved in trade talks for Andrew Bynum. (USATSI)

The deadline for the Cleveland Cavaliers to waive Andrew Bynum, thereby saving themselves from being on the hook for his full salary of $12 million instead of $6 million guaranteed is Tuesday. Since his suspension from the team for conduct detrimental over a week ago, the team has been looking for a trade partner who might value the savings that go along with a trade-and-waive for the often-injured big man.

The Lakers have been the source of the most rumors with a proposed swap of Bynum for Pau Gasol. Talks stalled out over the weekend, then were resurrected Sunday. But Gasol played for the Lakers Sunday night in a loss to Denver, and multiple reports indicate the two sides have reached an impasse.

Though the discussions have been varied and both sides considered numerous possibilities, the central issue never wavered, sources said.

The Lakers wanted more than just salary savings that trading for Bynum and waiving him would bring, primarily a young player or valuable draft pick. Trading for and cutting Bynum had the potential to save the Lakers more than $20 million in salary and luxury taxes. The Cavs, who stood to add millions to their own payroll with the deal, have resisted meeting the price because Gasol will be a free agent at the end of the season.

The Cavs are considering two other possible deals, sources said. One is to trade Bynum to the Utah Jazz for veteran forward Richard Jefferson.

via Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers fail to complete Andrew Bynum-for-Pau Gasol trade - ESPN.

The situation here is simple, but pretty interesting, as far as most trade rumors go.

Neither side has leverage. You have two front offices notorious for driving insanely hard bargains and wanting exceptional return on assets, met with the cold hard realities of their situations.

For the Cavaliers, this all started because Bynum's presence on the team became untenable. It wasn't his knees, which have undergone multiple surgeries approaching double-digits in his career, that ultimately brought his time with the Cavs to an end, but his attitude, which has been reported to be that of disinterest and a total lack of committment to the sport of basketball. That makes trying to get return on him harder. Yes, there are salary savings to be had, but only because the Cavs overpaid for what they wound up getting in the first place. The presence of Tuesday's deadline only makes the situation worse, leaving them without the ability to drag this out until the trade deadline.

Yet GM Chris Grant, who has to be feeling the heat after multiple years of perceived missteps that have left the Cavs only marginally closer to making the playoffs, continues to be one of the hardest GMs in the league to strike a deal with, according to multiple sources. The Cavaliers have been involved in nearly every major trade rumor that has evolved over the past two years, yet nothing has come down. Each time, media outlets would report that the Cavs wanted too much. It appears the same thing is in effect here, as Grant wants to surrender almost nothing besides the salary savings. To put it in layman's terms, the Cavs think they're doing whoever trades for Bynum a favor by giving them the cap savings. But Cleveland is up against the gun to avoid being on the hook for the total salary.

On the other side, you have the Lakers. This is the team that gave up what at the time was considered to be nothing for Pau Gasol, who they're looking to move now. Gasol wound up winning them two titles, and at the time they surrendered low-value picks, Javaris Crittenton, and the rights to Gasol's brother Marc. That Marc Gasol has evolved into a franchise player for Memphis certainly spurs re-evaluation of the deal. But additionally, when the team traded for perrennial All-Star and former MVP candidate Dwight Howard, they surrendered only again, low-value picks and the rights to Bynum, who was set to be a free agent the following summer anyway.

So traditionally speaking, this team doesn't win trades. They destroy everyone else on the playing field in trades. They walk out with the best player and then some. And this time, the Lakers are trading a player they still feel is a franchise-caliber power forward in Gasol. He's a former All-Star and just a few years ago was considered to be the best power forward in basketball. So they want exceptional return on his trade as well. That's part of the reason Gasol has never actually been moved (along with a veto from Hornets ownership in the failed Chris Paul deal).

But Gasol's not the player he was a few years ago, far from it. His body is mangled from the consant wear and tear all big men suffer, and despite his ability to put up numbers like the 25 points and 10 rebounds he dropped in a blowout loss to the Nuggets Sunday, there's no guarantee he'll be able to consistently anchor a team. And after giving Kobe Bryant the massive extension they did earlier this season, the Lakers know they need to get return on value with future players to set them up. The problem there is that Gasol's set to be a free agent. That means that the move for Bynum doesn't help them with their long-term goal of clearing space to put another star next to Bryant. It only helps them save money on the $79 million they have in salary this year.

And the Lakers are not a franchise known to overly worry about having to shell out money for their team. They have a $5 billion TV deal, for crying out loud.

So the question becomes, who will snap first? Will the Cavaliers be so unwilling to get less value than they think is worth a poor investment they themselves made? Or will the Lakers simply give up on this season in order to save a few dollars and snag a second round draft pick?

It's a fascinating game theory scenario that seems a lot like a game of "Chicken." Monday's the last day for either side to swerve, or for someone else to swoop in and snag Bynum themselves. Either way, this messy situation should serve as an example of the ridiculous posturing and dynamics of the NBA trade market.

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