Keeping Pau Gasol Key to Los Angeles Lakers Luring More Free Agents

Kobe Bryant's fat contract puts the Los Angeles Lakers in a position where short-term contention is the only sensible plan, and they'll need Pau Gasol back in the fold to carry it out.

At two years and $48.5 million, Bryant's supersized extension has the Lakers stuck. Bottoming out for another year isn't an option, both because already frustrated fans might revolt and because L.A. owes its 2015 lottery pick to the Phoenix Suns (if it falls outside the top five).

Another year like the last one won't leave the Lakers with anything to show for their struggles.

The oodles of cash owed to Bryant also limits L.A.'s flexibility, making it difficult to acquire a superstar who could lead it into the next era. And it's hard to know if any such superstars would even want to put up with two years of Bryant in the first place—even if they got to assume control of the team in 2016.

So the only real shot the Lakers have at relevance this season is to go after veterans who'll sign short-term deals for a competitive run right now. Bryant alone isn't enough to attract those types of players, but bringing Gasol back might be enough to entice a couple of second-tier free agents.

Everybody loves Gasol. He's a good guy, fun to play with because of his unselfishness and keen passing eye. But perhaps most importantly, free agents know that when healthy he and Kobe are a proven championship duo.

More broadly, short-term deals make a lot of sense—both for the Lakers and for free agents who aren't quite max-level players.

From L.A.'s perspective, the cap space it currently has means it can pay more than most other teams. So if the Lakers made a pitch to someone like Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng or even Isaiah Thomas by tossing out a two-year deal worth $20-25 million, you'd have to think those players would bite—or in Thomas' case sign an offer sheet his current ...

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