Could Chicago be Gasol’s next destination?

The NBA is halfway to a champion, which also means 26 teams are thinking about what to do. About half of them start paying attention this week with the NBA Draft Lottery—and top prize of Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, the certain No. 1 pick—Wednesday.

It also becomes much more possible to make a trade now, though it rarely is done, as teams are permitted to make deals once they are eliminated from the playoffs. But everyone generally waits until all 30 teams are in play and the draft positions are known, which also makes Wednesday a crucial day.

Still, there are plenty of possibilities floating around, these days generally starting with Dwight Howard.

The general consensus is he ends up in Brooklyn/New Jersey, though the Nets trading their draft pick (top three protected) could prove fatal to a deal. Teams like Houston, Portland and Golden State may take a risk on a one-year rental. The Lakers are supposed to get back in with Andrew Bynum, and rumors will come up regarding the Bulls again. Though it seems less likely that Howard would want to come to Chicago with Rose still out and then perhaps be faulted for a poor season. Orlando, despite recent reports, will make another run to retain him. But that won’t stop the trade rumors.

It’s usually the losers who provide the trade field with the biggest names being speculated upon these last few weeks also including Andre Iguodala, Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson and Rudy Gay. Once he got hurt and Miami began to do well, Chris Bosh entered the uncertainty. Then there’s Danny Granger, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Al Harrington, just about anyone on Orlando, and when Boston loses next week, maybe Rajon Rondo again. Though he’d seem awfully difficult to replace.

There will be plenty of speculation and rumors beginning soon, so I’ll ponder some possibilities as well. And I wonder about Pau Gasol. I happened to be talking to former Bull Chet Walker the other day. He lives in Los Angeles and watches the Lakers the most. We were talking about where they go from here and he talked about how they need a small forward who can rebound, run the court, defend, make some shots, take some pressure off Kobe. It sounded a lot like Chet Walker, though maybe 40 years ago. And also sounded a lot like Luol Deng today.

That raises a question the Bulls probably need to consider. One, obviously, which I addressed in my NBA column last Monday, was whether to give up next season without Rose and try to be a lottery team like the Spurs were when David Robinson got hurt. And then hope, though there are no more Tim Duncans. Of course, that’s tough to explain to everyone buying tickets.

There is also the question of whether this current Bulls group has gone as far as it can, that they had their chance and even if fate intervened and didn’t give them the chance to show what they could do, whether it is time to break them up and move in a new direction? These, of course, are impossible questions to answer unless you are doing them as most fans and media will be, that being afterward when you know what happened.

So here’s one possibility as I’m a fan of Gasol’s and believe his value now is as low as it ever will be given averaging 12 points on 44 percent shooting against the Thunder in the five-game loss (Andrew Bynum was right that closeouts are easy) and how badly he was used as a third and fourth perimeter option this season. Gasol averaged a career low 17.4 points per game this season even barely ever being allowed to play inside with Bynum healthy.

The interesting part, according to Lakers’ insiders, is Gasol would like to play for the Bulls. And what you hardly need any sources for is to see how he and Bryant basically can’t stand one another. It was no secret around L.A. what all those post series comments were about. "We got to be committed to each other," said Ron Artest. "This year we wasn't as committed collectively, and that hurt us a lot." Said Bynum: "We just weren't doing it together.”

That was because Bryant and Gasol were constantly at odds. And that came out several times in the playoffs with the two frequently arguing on the court and Bryant again questioning Gasol’s heart.

Yes, Gasol will be 32 in July, though given his position and the way he plays he can go a good four or five years. And that’s why him going where he wants to go would be vital. He has two years left on his contract and has talked about returning to play in Europe afterwards. Unless he really liked where he was, you assume. Also, his exorbitant $19 million salary the next two seasons makes him less desirable. And it’s no secret the Lakers want to move him.

If you were the Bulls, you’d have to decide this group is done and you are putting something new together to go with Rose when he returns. And, clearly, a big part of that would have to be more scoring to take the pressure off Rose.

The key to any deal involving Deng would be his possible wrist surgery after the Olympics. I will add here since there has been some criticism of Deng playing that I believe he’d be nuts not to play.

Yes, the Bulls pay his salary and he risks further injury. But so does everyone else, and no USA player is being asked not to play. Plus, Deng has perhaps more reason than anyone to represent his country: They saved his family from the civil war in Sudan. I’d be disappointed in Deng if he didn’t play for Great Britain. It’s a once in a lifetime chance with the games in London. Deng is an unofficial national ambassador. Plus, they’ll be out very quickly.

Anyway, Deng’s value is generally considered less because he could miss part of the start of next season. Trade him to the Kings for Tyreke Evans, who they’re trying to make a small forward on the way to pushing him out the door, and who knows how long Deng would want to recuperate? I know I’d take my time before reporting to Sacramento. But the Lakers still are good, and they just need more balance with Bryant and Bynum. And Kobe likes Deng, now an All-Star and all-league defender. His value has to be its most ever.

Remember those Bryant-to-the-Bulls trade rumors in 2007? One of the hitches to the deal that never was going to happen was in the talks (and there were some) that Bryant didn’t want to go to the Bulls if Deng wasn’t going to be there. The rumor at the time was the Lakers wanted Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah and Ben Gordon. Kobe supposedly said he wouldn’t go along if Deng were included.

It was among many scenarios being thrown out while the Lakers waited for Kobe to cool down. They never were going to trade him, they later conceded. But Kobe made his positive feelings known about Deng.

Forget Carlos Boozer. The Lakers have zero interest and would take Lamar Odom back before taking on Boozer’s $47 million remaining. Or maybe Smush Parker.

The issue is what it would take given Gasol’s $18 million salary. Obviously Deng, who makes about $12 million. Yes, the Lakers probably would love to also have Richard Hamilton to make the deal work as their bench is so weak and he is a longtime competitor of Bryant from their Philadelphia prep days.

That, though, leaves the Bulls short in the backcourt, especially with Rose out. The Lakers would have to add something, though they don’t have a first round pick. So maybe the Bulls pause even if they like Gasol.

But if you can add Gasol to go with Boozer, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, you can move Joakim Noah, who also has great value. That, of course, would be if the Bulls decided to start anew and provide a new and different kind of cast to play with Rose. It’s maybe the biggest philosophical question to begin to consider these next few weeks.

You could try to move Asik, but you don’t get much given his salary and likely base year situation with restricted free agency.

You could get two players for someone like Noah to replace Noah and get a guard. Maybe Atlanta with a sign and trade for Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams; Charlotte for B.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson and B.J. Mullens, Houston with some package including Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee; New Orleans for Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack and one of their lottery picks; Denver with Wilson Chandler and Andre Miller or Arron Afflalo; Minnesota with Luke Ridnour, Derrick Williams and maybe Anthony Randolph or Wes Johnson, though they’d need something back like the Bulls’ No. 1 pick.

Or just stay as you are and the way the East is there is no way even without Rose the Bulls won’t make the playoffs. And then maybe Rose returns in March and you make a playoff run and someone on Miami gets hurt and why can’t you compete for something next season without any major changes?

Gasol on the block

-- Gasol, despite his age and salary, is going to draw plenty of interest as he is just one year removed from being a three-year All-Star and perhaps the league’s best all around center. The Lakers need a point guard—yes, still—and depth. So how about the Bucks with a package including Brandon Jennings, Drew Gooden, Luc Mbah a Moute and a few smaller pieces? Though I doubt Milwaukee is Pau’s eventual goal. Houston thought they had him once and has two point guards. So Lowry, Luis Scola and maybe Samuel Dalembert. Cleveland with Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and the Lakers getting back their first round pick. What about for Chris Bosh as Gasol is a center? Heck, Miami’s bold enough to also take Artest. It will be quite the offseason.

Kentucky’s Davis this year’s lottery prize

-- One of the NBA’s fun days is Wednesday, the draft lottery. And it’s more fun when there’s a potential star to turn around your team, like there is this season potentially with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. He is the consensus No. 1 pick. The other players figured to have an impact over the next few seasons, if not as much as Davis’, are Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Florida’s Bradley Beal. Everyone will say they are happy and will get a great player. But no one will have a potential star who you can play through other than the team that gets the No. 1 pick and the rights to draft Davis.

The Bobcats have the best odds, but Davis probably would make the least impact there. Although there finally would be hope. In Charlotte, they are likening the lottery to the NFL team drafting Cam Newton. They may not win more immediately, but they’d have a star to watch and be on the way. Next best odds is the Wizards, who could make a jump as they now have Nene. Though someone still will have to teach John Wall how to play basketball. But they’d be headed in the right direction and a chance to get to the bottom of the playoffs.

The Cavaliers have the third best odds and would be scary with rookie of the year Kyrie Irving at point. Anderson Varajao returns and they have loads of cap room. Maybe LeBron will come back in 2014. The Hornets have two lottery picks and the fourth best odds and with Eric Gordon likely to return as a restricted free agent they’d have some hope, if not a chance yet to make the playoffs. Then comes the Kings, and if they loved up from No. 5 would they then try to move DeMarcus Cousins? The Nets with the sixth best odds keep the pick if they move up to top three, and then the Warriors keep their pick if it remains top seven. The lowest odds are the Rockets, Suns, Bucks and Trailblazers, and Portland could use some luck with a good center. Though you figure if they got Davis’ rights he’ll be buying a lot of insurance.

NBA news and notes

-- Well, the playoffs finally started Sunday night with two talented and deep teams, which doesn’t exist in the East. It was a delight to watch after so much miserable Eastern ball, and you’d expect loads of Thunder adjustments after their loss. The Thunder blew it not playing Serge Ibaka the entire fourth quarter with Kevin Durant moving to power forward, which they do. Kendrick Perkins is a fraud, as we know, and had zero rebounds in almost nine fourth quarter minutes. Without any shot blocking, the Spurs won driving the ball to the basket. I know Derek Fisher was hitting shots. But nine fourth quarter minutes? No wonder the Spurs scored 39 points in the fourth. Yes, the Thunder isolates too much, but they always do, and it’s their Achilles. But they win when their defense closes. You sit Thabo Sefolosha late and go with Ibaka, Perkins, Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They gave away Game 1. But on the road. This series still is well in doubt. … Will players be able to touch the ball on the rim next season? That’s supposedly one of the big reasons behind the changes in the league’s competition committee. General managers previously rejected that, so commissioner David Stern has a different group to work with. Stern has wanted to mesh the NBA’s and international rules, and getting the ball on the rim is the first step. The trapezoid lane may be coming as well.

-- The Pacers felt pretty good about themselves going up on Miami 2-1, but they pretty much blew it from there and not so much because they were soft, as GM Larry Bird said. Despite the Heat having little inside presence and Shane Battier playing David West, Indiana rarely went inside for offense. To beat Miami, you have to slow the game, cut turnovers and keep them outside. Dallas played considerable zone to win the Finals last season. The Pacers eschewed zone. You don’t have to play zone, as many NBA coaches don’t like to. But then you need bigs who can switch, like the Bulls have. The Pacers didn’t and constantly gave Dwyane Wade those easy lanes to the basket, which had to be really why Bird was so upset. The Pacers got out thought. … The Philadelphia Inquirer presented a fine case last week for why no one wants to take a chance on Allen Iverson. Iverson arranged for Comcast cable-TV to do an interview for his return tour. So they flew a crew to Atlanta, but Iverson never showed up and no one could find him. Then the 76ers did get him to come to Philadelphia last week for a playoff game, but they had to provide air fare and hotel for Iverson and his entourage and some 25 people watched the game with Iverson in a suite. Can you imagine having to deal with that all season for a backup? ... Pretty sad of the Magic to fire Stan Van Gundy with a late afternoon phone call and not face to face. Especially after Van Gundy was in the office all morning and left in the afternoon. No wonder brother Jeff ripped Magic president and former team p.r. director Alex Martins bitterly as knowing nothing about basketball. Magic insiders said Martins still believes firing Van Gundy will help keep Howard, which the Cavs also thought when they fired Mike Brown after LeBron complained. Good luck with that one. No word yet on Howard’s request the team change its name to Orlando Dwights.

-- The league fined Miami coach Erik Spoelstra for accusing the Pacers of being head hunters and the referees ignoring it. The fact is Indiana isn’t nearly the physical team the Bulls faced in last year’s playoffs without Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts, who delivered most of the cheap shots. They are more skilled, but who’s so dirty? Granger? Not Roy Hibbert or understated Paul George. Mini Darren Collison? But if you say something often enough, even if it’s not true, maybe someone believes it, which usually works on the American public in politics. … If it wasn’t clear, it certainly is now the Rockets will be moving Kyle Lowry. He complained vaguely about coach Kevin McHale, and while management said there were no issues, it’s been no secret around the league this season the Rockets prefer Goran Dragic and the unrestricted free agent made it clear he has no interest in the Rockets if he’s not starting. Plus, the Rockets were quietly shopping Lowry before he suffered a serious abductor injury before the trade deadline.

-- This is the fourth time in NBA history single pro market teams are meeting in the playoffs: 2007, San Antonio-Utah; 1999, San Antonio-Portland; 1992, Portland-Utah. … Often luck is a lot better. The Thunder two years ago offered Jeff Green a $50 million long term deal to be the Big Three with Westbrook and Durant. Green declined, so the Thunder traded him for Kendrick Perkins. Perkins came more cheaply, which now, at least, gives the Thunder a chance to resign James Harden. With Green, who then underwent heart surgery and missed this season, they might not even be in position to make an offer to Harden. The Thunder is pretty well set for next season. But starting in 2013-14, they already have salary commitments for $47 million. Both Harden and Serge Ibaka are restricted free agents the summer of 2013. Figuring it would cost at least $25 million to keep both, the Thunder payroll in one of the league’s smallest markets would be well into the luxury tax. They will have some interesting decisions to make, and it’s a pretty good chance you could get Nick Collison for maybe a second round draft pick. … Josh Childress, whose free agent deal has three years left at $21 million, was 0-2 in free throws this season in 491 minutes in the amazing stat of the year. … The Clippers need to make a decision on Vinny Del Negro’s option by the end of this week.