source: Marc Stein | ESPN.com
The Chicago Bulls are exploring avenues to acquire Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol before Thursday's trade deadline, according to sources close to the situation.
The Bulls have long hoped to wedge themselves into the trade running for Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard, but sources told ESPN.com that Howard's well-chronicled lack of interest in a trade to Chicago has prompted the Bulls to switch their focus to Gasol in advance of Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.
Sources say that the Lakers, however, have limited interest in the players Chicago would be offering, starting with Bulls forward Carlos Boozer.
So the Bulls would have to recruit at least one more team to the discussions to have any shot at Gasol, sources said, with the Lakers known to be insistent on getting back at least one certifiable star if they consent to trade the Spaniard.
Sources say that the Lakers, furthermore, are talking to other teams about Gasol in advance.
The Lakers' longstanding preference, of course, is acquiring a top point guard if they agree to surrender Gasol. They included the 7-footer in the December deal with New Orleans and Houston that would have landed Chris Paul with the Lakers, only for NBA commissioner David Stern -- acting as the final decision-maker for the league-owned Hornets -- to tell New Orleans' basketball people to cancel the deal after all three teams agreed to terms.
Gasol has been subjected to constant trade speculation ever since, and recently acknowledged to ESPN.com that "there's no guarantees" he'll be with the Lakers beyond the trade deadline, despite recent assurances from Lakers management that no deal was imminent.
The Rockets continue to have interest in Gasol but have consistently refused to make point guard Kyle Lowry available. Golden State and Minnesota also are known to have interest in trading Gasol if the Lakers prove willing.
Before the All-Star Game, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant registered a public plea to team officials for clarification on Gasol's tenuous future, saying that "it's hard for (Gasol) to kind of invest himself completely ... when he's hearing trade talk every other day."
Asked how much he's looking forward to getting past Thursday, Gasol recently told ESPN.com: "When that day comes along and nothing happens, I know for sure I'll have the security that I will be here at least for this season. After that? Who knows? Obviously it'll be an important day in order just to put everything behind me for another month or two or three."
ESPN.com reported last month that the Bulls are shocked and frustrated that Howard has not included them on his publicly known list of teams to which he'd welcome a trade, which is headlined by the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks and originally included the Lakers, as well.
The Bulls naturally relish the idea of pairing Howard with star guard Derrick Rose, but it's believed that Howard's primary reservation about a trade there is that the Bulls are clearly Chicago native Rose's team.
Going to the Brooklyn-bound Nets, by contrast, would not only put Howard in a major market but also give him a larger share of the spotlight alongside Nets guard Deron Williams.
Howard's interest in the Lakers has waned for similar reasons, with sources close to the 26-year-old saying that he has grown increasingly sensitive to suggestions that he is following Shaquille O'Neal's career path too closely.
The Bulls' primary need remains backcourt scoring thanks to a succession of injuries suffered by newcomer Richard Hamilton, but team officials have quietly maintained an interest in acquiring an elite big man such as Howard or Gasol to try to ease the nightly load Rose carries.
Rose became the youngest MVP in NBA history last season but couldn't overcome the suffocating attention he received from the Miami Heat in last spring's Eastern Conference finals, raising concerns that Chicago -- despite its league-leading 35-9 record -- will face the same issues this postseason.
After the Lakers' shootaround Tuesday in Memphis, Gasol told reporters: "This year's been pretty intense as far as the uncertainty of my situation. How it's going to end up and play out, I really don't know. But, I still come in and love what I do. I love being here and I'll continue to do that for as long as I can."
Gasol, though, has not let the speculation permeate throughout his life. Gasol and Lakers coach Mike Brown visited St. Jude Children's Research Hospital shortly after the Lakers arrived in Memphis on Monday, continuing Gasol's years-long association with "Hoops for St. Jude" dating to his days playing for the Grizzlies.
"He's been very impressive," Brown said of Gasol. "He's been impressive on the floor, he's been impressive off the floor and you just appreciate when you have guys like that. There's not a single thing that I can say that's negative or anything like that when it comes to Pau."
If the Lakers elect not to trade Gasol before the deadline and give the core of their current roster one more shot at making a championship run before pursuing major moves in the offseason, they still have an $8.9 million trade exception to use before Thursday that was created in the December deal with Dallas that sent Lamar Odom to the Mavericks. The Lakers also possess two 2012 first-round picks that could be used as trade assets.
One league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin that the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers recently tried to resuscitate a deal that would have sent point guard Ramon Sessions to L.A. by bringing the Rockets into the mix as a third-team facilitator.
The source said that the Lakers, in that proposal, would have received Sessions from Cleveland and future considerations from Houston, with the Rockets receiving one of the Lakers' two 2012 first-rounders and the Cavaliers landing Houston guard Jonny Flynn to back up Kyrie Irving at the point.
As of Tuesday, though, those discussions had gone dormant, according to a Western Conference executive. But Sessions remains at the top of the Lakers' list of targets to upgrade their backcourt.
Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com. ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.