LOS ANGELES--Pau Gasol, the NBA's most-targeted subject of trade innuendo, survived another deadline Thursday at noon, with the Los Angeles Lakers unable to move him and his $19.3-million salary.
The Lakers made no deals at all Thursday, which brought to mind one obvious question. What's next for a team on pace for its worst season ever?
The Lakers are headed for a lottery pick in the June draft, followed by free agency in July.
They saved about $4 million in salary and luxury taxes by trading Steve Blake on Wednesday night for two seldom-used Golden State guards. But the Blake deal definitely irked Kobe Bryant, who weighed in on Twitter with a big thumbs down.
"Not cool with (at)SteveBlake5 being gone AT ALL One of my closest teammates and psycho competitor GS picked up gem (hashtag)smartmove," Bryant wrote.
So it wasn't surprising to hear Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak talk about the future more than usual when meeting with reporters Thursday.
Especially with the Lakers (18-36) on track to break the team record for worst winning percentage in a season (30-52, 36.5 percent in 1974-75).
"It's reasonable to think that every now and then, or maybe once every 10 years, or maybe once every 15 years, you might have a bad year. And we are not having a good year," Kupchak said. "Our hope and our desire is that next year is going to be a lot better than this year and we certainly have the tools to begin that process.
"Next year we're going to have Kobe when he's healthy and we will have a good draft choice and we'll have dollars to spend on free agents. So it depends who we can get in this summer."
Here's the problem: The Lakers don't know what they can get this summer. If LeBron James opts out of his contract, they'll make a phone call, but it's a long shot he'll leave Miami for the Lakers.
The Lakers are not interested in possible free agent Carmelo Anthony, who claims he won't break the New York Knicks' bank to stay with them. The Lakers also aren't looking intently at point guard Kyle Lowry, who becomes a free agent this summer, according to a person familiar with the situation.
They do like Cleveland forward Luol Deng but don't want to overpay for him this summer, meaning their eyes are firmly on Kevin Love in July 2015 and Kevin Durant in 2016.
You can almost hear Kupchak drift away to those seemingly far-off years.
"I don't think that we'll use our cap money to patch together a team for next year. We're looking to bring something (big) to Los Angeles," he said. "May take more than one year to build, I don't know. But because we have a lot of money this summer doesn't mean we'll spend it all. We'll spend it wisely.
"And if we can't, then we'll do the best we can this summer and we'll look maybe to the next summer. We don't know who's going to be free, we don't who's going to opt in and who's going to opt out, so there's a lot of unknown. But all you can do is be in position and we feel we are positioned well for opportunity."
Bryant might have something to say about the Lakers' future, Kupchak said in a lighter moment Thursday, acknowledging that, "I'm sure he'll tell me the players he'll like to have."
Maybe Gasol, 33, is part of that future, a tough-to-envision outcome even though Kupchak says the Lakers will "absolutely" entertain thoughts of re-signing him in July. "No grudges. No hard feelings," Gasol said. "I'm just glad there are teams that are interested in me."
The Lakers tried to peddle him, hoping Phoenix would take him for Emeka Okafor's expiring contract and a relatively high first-round draft pick. But Gasol, through his representatives, never gave the Suns a guarantee he would re-sign with them when he became a free agent this summer.
Gasol had picked up his game in January, until a strained groin sidelined him. He's missed the last seven games but planned to return Friday against Boston.
His defense hasn't been sharp this season and his shooting accuracy (46.9%) continues to rival that of a guard, not a post player, but there will be some decent free-agent offers for him.
"I'm pretty confident there will be," Gasol said. "It'll be nice to be in that position, I guess, for a few days."
Gasol seemed eager to hold some power after a wacky few years that started when he was essentially traded to Houston in 2011 as part of the three-team Chris Paul deal ultimately vetoed by former NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Meanwhile, Blake was in the middle of a career year, averaging 9.5 points and 7.6 assists when he was sent to Golden State for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, who have combined to average 4.9 points and 0.7 assists. All three players become free agents after this season, with Blake, 33, already saying he welcomes a return to the Lakers.
Brooks, 25, is with his fourth franchise in only his third NBA season, his reputation as an inaccurate gunner traveling with him wherever he goes and making Bazemore the more intriguing player to monitor.
Bazemore, 24, was a hit on the Warriors' summer-league team last July, including a 26-point game against the Lakers' entry. He comes with a nose for strong defense outdone only by his work ethic.
"No doubt a tough day seeing Kent Bazemore go," guard Stephen Curry wrote on Twitter. "Gave everything 2 the team and true Warrior. I'm his biggest fan!"
The Lakers had discussions with a handful of teams about high-energy power forward Jordan Hill, but nothing materialized. Hill, 26, is averaging 8.5 points and seven rebounds in only 19.6 minutes. He is a free agent in July.
There are no definitive plans for Bryant's return date from a fractured left knee that has kept him out since Dec. 17. "We're not going to push him to come back," Kupchak said.
Bryant has played in only six games this season. He has two more years and $48.5 million remaining on his contract after this season.
(Bresnahan is a Times staff writer. Pincus is a Times correspondent.)
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