Pau Gasol is averaging 17 points, 8 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game this season. (Joshua C. Cruey / Orlando…)
The Lakers took off Monday for a three-game trip and left behind the injured Pau Gasol.
Will he still be there when they return?
The Lakers and Phoenix Suns have engaged in trade talks for Gasol, though there is one main holdup to a deal being consummated. The Lakers want a better first-round pick than what the Suns currently offer.
The Suns (29-18) are surprisingly good this season, making their draft pick correspondingly low (23rd overall). They own at least one other pick in the NBA draft in June, Indiana's first-round selection, currently 30th overall. It was unclear which of the two picks the Suns were willing to trade as part of the Gasol offer.
It gets tricky: Phoenix also holds first-round picks that belong to Washington and Minnesota, but both are protected and will revert to those teams if they stumble. The Wizards' pick is top-12 protected, so the Suns technically own it at this point (17th overall). The Timberwolves' pick is top-13 protected, meaning the Suns also hold it right now (14th or 15th).
A trade could still happen with the Suns between now and the Feb.20 trade deadline, but the Lakers planned to field other offers for Gasol, according to an official familiar with the situation.
The Lakers (16-31) have the NBA's eighth-worst record.
The Lakers haven't had a first-round pick since they selected and immediately traded Toney Douglas in 2009. They drafted Javaris Crittenton in the first round in 2007 and are eager to see what they can pluck from this year's draft, considered one of the best in a long time.
This draft is important to the rebuilding Lakers for another reason — they don't hold first-round picks in 2015 because of the Steve Nash trade and in 2017 because of the Dwight Howard trade.
In addition to a first-round selection for Gasol, Phoenix would give the Lakers veteran center Emeka Okafor, who has not played this season because of a neck injury. The Lakers hope to trim payroll since their season looks like a playoff miss for the first time since 2004-05.
Gasol is making $19.3 million and Okafor $14.5 million in the final year of their contracts.
Gasol, 33, is sidelined until at least next week because of a strained groin. The bad start he experienced this season was replaced by some strong play in January (20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds), though he still suffered defensively at times.
Gasol did not talk to reporters Monday before the Lakers flew to Minnesota for a game there Tuesday.
Nash and Blake
Guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake are expected to play against the Timberwolves, ending lengthy absences because of injuries.
Nash, who turns 40 on Friday, has been out since Nov. 10 because of nerve damage in his back. Blake has been sidelined since Dec. 10 because of a torn elbow ligament.
Blake was playing some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 9.8 points and 7.7 assists when he was injured.
“We'll see how shooting the deep ball goes,” Blake said. “At first, it might take me a little while to get that where it was. As far as passing the basketball, I think I should fit right back in.”
Nash is expected to sit out the game Wednesday in Cleveland because it is a back-to-back, but he plans to play Friday against Philadelphia.
Another guard, Jordan Farmar, could return against Cleveland after sitting out 25 of the last 29 games because of hamstring injuries.
Chris Kaman has complained twice this season about a lack of playing time, but he will get some action because of Gasol's injury.
Kaman, 31, is averaging 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in his only season with the Lakers.
“I'm disappointed how [playing time] comes out,” Kaman said. “It's frustrating to have Pau go down like that and be out for a week or whatever it is ... so unfortunately it comes with someone getting hurt before I have a chance to play.”
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.