It’s unclear how long the Lakers’ Pau Gasol will be out with what the team said Wednesday was a “tear of the plantar fascia.”
The forward/center is still being evaluated, but it seems a foregone conclusion that he’s going to be out for a significant amount of time.
If that means four weeks, Gasol will miss the team’s next 13 games. Six weeks means 20 games. If Gasol ends up sidelined for eight to 10 weeks, he would be out 26 -- through the rest of the regular season.
The team is already without Jordan Hill, leaving Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison, rookie Robert Sacre and an undersized Metta World Peace to fill the power forward/center positions. Howard has been sidelined recently with a shoulder injury.
What options do the Lakers have moving forward?
-- They can stand pat and hope for the best. At 23-26, the team has seemingly turned a corner with three straight road wins, but there’s going to be some dropoff with the loss of Gasol.
--Sign a free agent to a 10-day contract at minimum. The Lakers can issue a player two 10-day contracts before a commitment for rest of the season is required. Potentially available players include Kenyon Martin, Troy Murphy, Kyrylo Fesenko, Greg Oden or even former Laker Brian Cook. A veteran such as Martin would probably want a contract for the season. The Lakers could look to the D-League for players such as Brian Butch, Jerome Jordan, Solomon Alabi, Henry Sims and Keith Benson.
--Sign a free agent for the remainder of the season. The Lakers can spend from the minimum to $1.59 million, the remaining balance on their mid-level exception after spending $1.5 million on Jodie Meeks this past offseason. The team can also sign a player for up to $1.78 million via the Jordan Hill disabled-player exception. The Lakers are deep into the luxury tax, so whatever they spend is doubled.
--Use the Jordan Hill trade exception in trade. The Lakers can try to acquire a player in the final year of his contract making up to $1.88 million. The list of such players is relatively short with DeJuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs and Ivan Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks fitting the positional need. Johnson has the ability to block a trade after re-signing with the Hawks for a year. Naturally, the Spurs and Hawks may have no interest in helping out the Lakers.
--Use one of three trade exceptions to acquire a player (without the single-year restriction attached to the disabled-player exception). The Lakers can bring in a player making up to $1.27 million (Christian Eyenga), $954,000 (Jason Kapono) or $644,000 (Derek Fisher), depending on which exception they use. Exceptions cannot be combined to bring in a larger-salaried player.
--Trade for a player on a minimum contract. Teams are not required to match salaries to acquire a player at the minimum. Some names might include Louis Amundson, Jermaine O’Neal, Anthony Tolliver, Jeremy Tyler, Dexter Pittman, among others.
--Make a conventional trade. The Lakers can look to send a player out before the Feb. 21 deadline to fill in for Gasol. Given that Gasol and Hill are injured, they don’t exactly have significant trade value.
Devin Ebanks is out of the rotation. He too can block a trade but may be willing waive that if a move is a better opportunity. The Lakers can bring back up to $1.42 million in salary if they send out Ebanks, who is under contract for $1.05 million this season.
Chris Duhon has another year on his deal at $3.75 million next year, but only $1.5 million is guaranteed. His $3.5 million for this season, combined with Ebanks, translates into about $5.8 million of incoming salary.
The difficult part for the Lakers is finding a team willing to give up something of value for Duhon and Ebanks. On occasion, teams make moves for economic reasons, but the Lakers aren’t exactly excited at the prospect of spending more money, especially with luxury taxes.
The Lakers have other players who might be attractive in trade but General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently said he doesn’t intend to deal any of the team’s principal players.
How the Lakers proceed depends on Gasol’s diagnosis, free agency and the willingness of another team in the league to make a deal.