The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers continued discussions Tuesday on a deal centered around former teammates Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the outcome of Kyrie Irving's forthcoming MRI exam is likely to have a big impact on how the talks proceed from here.
Irving told reporters Tuesday night that he felt a "pop" in his left knee after suffering the injury during Cleveland's loss to the Indiana Pacers. Irving was initially cleared to return to the game after he went down in the third quarter, but he confessed afterward that the knee felt weak as he played on in the fourth quarter. An MRI is scheduled for Wednesday.
If Irving is out for a substantial length of time, it's believed that the Cavaliers' appetite to take on additional salary in pursuit of a playoff push would inevitably be diminished.
The Lakers, meanwhile, remained firm Tuesday in their insistence on acquiring additional assets from the Cavaliers in addition to Bynum's cap-friendly contract in exchange for the four-time All-Star from Spain.
Although a swap sending Gasol to Cleveland and reacquiring Bynum -- with the intent of releasing him by Jan. 7 when the second half of Bynum's $12.25 million salary becomes guaranteed -- could save the Lakers in excess of $20 million in salary and luxury-tax obligations at season's end, there is strong sentiment within the organization to give the current group time to get healthy, and resurrect its season before making any major moves, sources said.
ESPN reported Monday that the Cavs also have had separate discussions with the Chicago Bulls about a Bynum trade for Luol Deng, according to sources. The Bulls are in a similar position as the Lakers, about $8 million into the luxury tax and dealing with an injury-marred season.
Deng, like Gasol, is a free agent-to-be, and such a trade-and-waive deal with Bynum also could save the Bulls in excess of $20 million in salary and taxes this season. However, the Bulls have maintained that they do not want to trade Deng and believe they will be able to re-sign him after the season.
The Cavs suspended Bynum for one game for conduct detrimental to the team over the weekend and have excused him from all activities. Bynum, who was an All-Star and won two championship rings with the Lakers before being traded in a deal for Howard in 2012, averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 24 games with the Cavs. After missing last season because of knee injuries, Bynum has said he is unsure how long he will continue playing.
If he is waived by the Cavs or any team that might trade for him by Jan. 7, Bynum likely would have multiple offers to join a team as a free agent.
The Cavs are looking to upgrade their roster as they attempt to end a three-year playoff drought. The Lakers have been luxury-tax payers for six straight seasons. While the luxury-tax savings this season -- and the ability to avoid the repeater tax penalty, which kicks in when a team is a taxpayer in four of five years, starting with the 2011-12 season -- would undoubtedly help the Lakers' long-term flexibility, the franchise's history and organizational culture make that a difficult prospect to consider.
Earlier this month, ESPN.com reported that the Lakers had been considering whether to trade Gasol as he clashed with Mike D'Antoni and struggled to adapt to his role within the coach's offensive and defensive systems. They had exploratory talks with several teams, including the Bulls, Rockets and Brooklyn Nets, but pulled back some after Gasol's attitude and play improved during Kobe Bryant's six games, before Bryant went down again with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee.
Gasol, who is in the final year of a contract that pays him $19 million, is averaging 14.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game while shooting what would be a career-low 45 percent from the field.