Pau Gasol Already Weighing Options for Next Summer
Despite ushering in a new head coach over the summer, the Chicago Bulls (11-5) currently sit third in the Eastern Conference standings and are seemingly one of the few teams with legitimate title aspirations this season.
The Bulls haven’t missed a beat under new sideline general Fred Hoiberg. Even with former All-Star Joakim Noah now in a reduced role or former league MVP Derrick Rose battling an assortment of injuries early, the Bulls have persevered.
Last season, veteran big man Pau Gasol averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in 34 minutes per contest. It was a bounce-back campaign for Gasol who had spent his previous season being hounded by trade rumors as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Gasol signed a bargain three-year, $21 million deal to join Chicago in 2014, in a move considered a steal at the time. With the league’s salary cap expected to grow exponentially next summer, Gasol’s current deal would be one of the most cap-friendly, relative to production, in the association.
But Gasol has a player option for the 2016-17 season and could opt to become an unrestricted free agent next summer to take advantage of the changing market.
According to a recent report, Gasol may indeed be leaning toward opting out in order to test the free agency waters.
“As long as I keep playing like this,” Gasol said, according to Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago, “I know I’ll have some options.”
Gasol numbers are down a bit this season as the veteran is contributing 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. Gasol is also shooting a career worst 44 percent from the floor.
The veteran believes his heavy workload playing internationally this summer played a role early on.
“I feel pretty good right now physically,” Gasol said. “I had to take it easier in the preseason so I started a little slower this season than I would’ve liked, but because of how I played this summer I had no choice. I had to refuel somehow so I could have enough gas to make it through the entire season and still get to the end with enough and push through so I can play well in the playoffs.”
At 35, Gasol is undoubtedly past his peak physical prime, but still remains an integral piece of the Bulls’ championship ambitions. He’ll have no shortage of suitors if he hits the open market after this season.
Kyrie Irving Nearing Return from Injury
The Cleveland Cavaliers (13-5) are widely expected to be one of the two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals at season’s end. As of right now, Cleveland sits atop the Eastern Conference standings despite injuries to All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and defensive-minded guard Iman Shumpert. Starting center Timofey Mozgov is also struggling to regain his rhythm due to a knee injury.
However, the team has managed to weather the storm due to the continued brilliance of four-time league MVP LeBron James and strong play of All-Star Kevin Love. But in order for the Cavaliers to seriously contend for a title, they’ll need to be at full strength and, most importantly, have Irving back in the fold.
Irving was recently cleared to resume practice and his return from knee surgery appears to be imminent, although the guard wouldn’t give up precise details.
“You’re not getting anything out of me,” Irving said, according to Tom Withers of the Associated Press. “No percentages, no target dates, nothing. I’m feeling good. Personally, I’m in a great place just being able to be out here and practice with the guys, being able to go up and down and continuously, as well.
“Today, there was a lot more up and down, being able to test my wind, being able to test my knee, going from offense to defense and translating and being able to get out in the fast break and being able to try my moves that I’ve been practicing, kind of knock off most of the rust I’ve had.”
Irving, a three-time All-Star, averaged 21.7 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 75 contests last season.
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