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Trade Target Breakdown: Marc Gasol

Could the Clippers seek to reunite Kawhi Leonard with the starting center from last year’s championship team?

Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

As we approach next month’s NBA Trade deadline, I’ll be doing a series of posts examining players who the Clippers could be pursuing in trade negotiations. I’ll cover a wide range of potential targets, including players the Clippers have been linked to in rumors, players who I think would make intriguing targets, and players who I have been asked about by readers. Haven’t seen a breakdown for a player you think the Clippers should pursue? Ask me to add him to the list!

Player Name: Marc Gasol

Position: C

Height: 6’11”

Age: 34 (turns 35 January 29th)

Stats: 28.3 minutes per game in 29 appearances this season, averaging 7.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 0.9 steals while shooting 40.4% from three on 4.3 attempts per 36.

Contract: Expiring deal worth $25.6M

Impact on Clippers: High-Very High

Last deadline, the Toronto Raptors checked their watches, saw the clock ticking on Kawhi Leonard’s time with the team, took stock of their roster, and traded starting center Jonas Valanciunas, backup wings C.J. Miles and Delon Wright, and a 2nd round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for Marc Gasol.

A few months later, they won the NBA Championship. Could the same formula work for the Clippers this year?

Gasol, of course, did not single-handedly carry the Raptors to the title—that fell to Kawhi Leonard, who won his second Finals MVP award before joining the Clippers in free agency. But Gasol provided floor spacing, passing, and elite defense from the center position, a combination fitting for one of the league’s elder statesmen settling into a supporting role on a contender after years as an All-Star in Memphis. For the Clippers, that’s a perfect fit. Right now, LAC’s single greatest weakness is potential playoff match-ups against teams like Denver, the L.A. Lakers, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee (not a coincidence that these are among the league’s best teams) with elite big men. Gasol is far and away a better option defensively against elite centers than Ivica Zubac or Montrezl Harrell, and even in other match-ups he has the playoff experience and track record to be supremely trustworthy at center. For my money, he’s the potential center target (more than Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, or anyone else) who most fits what the Clippers need in order to amplify their championship aspirations by gearing up for likely playoff opponents.

Likeliness of Availability: Low

Unfortunately, the Clippers really wanting Gasol doesn’t mean that the Raptors really want to help out the team that only a few months ago lured the incumbent NBA Finals MVP away from Toronto. Furthermore, Gasol’s seamless fit on the court with LAC doesn’t mean that orchestrating the logistics of a trade would be as smooth.

For their part, the Raptors (who we knew would still be good) have been even better than expected, sitting at 27-14 despite essentially every key player except OG Anunoby missing double-digit games in the first half of the season. As constructed, it would be hyperbolic to suggest that Toronto has realistic hopes of repeating, but it is certainly fair to say that they are an Eastern Conference Finals-caliber team, especially if they add a contributor at the trade deadline. Toronto has a number of aging members of their core—Gasol, 33-year-old Kyle Lowry, and 30-year-old Serge Ibaka—but are balanced with a number of key players in their mid- and early-20s, so there’s no pressing need to undergo a total rebuild. Why not hold on to Gasol to help Pascal Siakam win 50 games and have a fun playoff run while they bide their time to see what they’ll be able to put around Siakam to try to vault back into contender status in the coming years?

If the right deal comes along for Gasol, sure. Are the Clippers in a position to make such an offer? Gasol’s big $25.6M contract means that the Clippers have to find over $20M in outgoing salary, well exceeding the oft-mentioned Maurice Harkless/Jerome Robinson package the Clippers could move at the deadline. Adding Gasol, who is strictly a center and likely would not pair well alongside Zubac or Harrell, while losing a PF in Harkless messes with the Clippers lineups. In order to make salaries work, the Clippers may have to include one of Zubac or Harrell, which is a big gamble for a 35-year-old Gasol on an expiring deal.

The hypothetical deal that jumps out here is a Harkless/Zubac/Robinson for Gasol swap—and that might be a package that both teams say no to. If the Clippers are willing to give up Zubac, their 22-year-old starter on a team-friendly four-year, $28.5M deal, then it’s a sign that they both don’t have faith in their current center tandem and are truly all-in for the short-term title chase with Leonard.