Should the Los Angeles Lakers re-sign Pau Gasol? The real question is whether Gasol should stay or go? Finally, the veteran big man and soon-to-be free agent has the right to make such a decision for himself. After being the key component of seemingly every trade rumor known to man for the better part of three seasons, the 13-year veteran will have the ability to begin negotiating with teams as of 9:01 p.m. Pacific Time on June 30.
“This year is a little different,” Gasol told reporters during his exit interview. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be traded. [Now], that possibility is out of the question. It’s now [out] because I’m in charge of my future and destiny, and listen to the possibilities on the table. I look at this as an opportunity probably for the first time and last time I’ll be a free agent where I can choose.”
One can hardly blame Gasol for wanting to explore his options. The opportunity to remain in Los Angeles with longtime friend and teammate Kobe Bryant may be appealing, but it would also be understandable for Gasol to pursue a more immediate path toward a title if he determines the current state of the Lakers is not something he wants to sign on for.
While Gasol and current head coach Mike D’Antoni have expressed a mutual respect for one another, (needless to say) Gasol hasn’t fit within D’Antoni’s uptempo system. If you’re Gasol and trying to determine the final leg of what will very likely be a Hall of Fame career, you probably don’t see that as a suitable union, especially if the organization expects you to take a sizable pay cut in order to secure their future plans.
When asked about D’Antoni’s job status, general manager Mitch Kupchak mentioned the remaining years of the contract, but declined to elaborate much further. Far from a resounding endorsement, but somewhat understandable given all of the uncertainties the organization is currently addressing. Last week, we broke down some of the team’s best coaching options in the event the front office decides to move in a different direction.
Beyond those, what if a candidate like Lionel Hollins were to be taken into consideration? Not only has Hollins proven a willingness to center an offense around multiple talented post players as he did with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in Memphis, but his attention to the defensive end and approaching that side of the ball with a heightened aggressiveness is something that might appeal to both Gasol and the rabid fan base.
Although perhaps not the same player he once was throughout three consecutive Finals appearances with the Lakers, and clearly limited in terms of defensive impact mainly due to age and attrition, there is still expected to be a relatively strong market for Gasol. Even with diminished athleticism, Gasol remains a highly effective player from either side of the post and one of the best passing big men in the game. Not to mention, he is an absolutely phenomenal teammate and one that has an ability to blend with even the most demanding of personalities.
“We (Bryant and Gasol) complement each other so well, personally and professionally,” Gasol said. “Since Day 1, it’s been a key part of our success and how we function so well. I have great respect for him, and what he brings to the table is very unique.”
The fact that Bryant and Gasol mesh so well is something the front office is likely to consider when making decisions about how to proceed. Although you absolutely cannot mortgage the future for the sake of the next couple seasons, the common thought is that Lakers management could ultimately have their hearts set on talent that may not become available until 2015 and 2016. If that is the case, then management would have to take keeping the Bryant and Gasol connection in-tact until then.
Kupchak made it clear Gasol was a “priority” during his exit interview, but one must wonder just how much salary cap flexibility the Lakers would be willing to sacrifice with the next few potential free agency classes in mind. If a bidding war between additional teams with ample cap space like the Phoenix Suns ($30M+) and Dallas Mavericks ($31M+) were to take place, the Lakers could find themselves with a difficult decision if their true desire is to re-sign the two-time champion. Those other organizations have free agents of their own to take care of, but could still conceivably offer a player like Gasol a sizeable deal.
And then there’s the Phil Jackon-led New York Knicks. The latest rumors not only have former Suns GM Steve Kerr as the primary candidate to replace Mike Woodson as head coach, but the team also has interest in Gasol’s services, according to Yahoo’s Marc J. Spears. Acquiring Gasol would be much easier said than done, as the Knicks find themselves both in salary cap purgatory and without many favorable assets to utilize. Hypothetically speaking, a sign-and-trade scenario could become available, but it would require the Knicks to first do some serious cap reduction similar to what Golden State did last summer in finding the Utah Jazz to take a ton of salary (Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson) off their hands.
The big question is does Gasol look at the Knicks and see a team that’s closer to title contention than the Lakers? That determination is certain to be factored into any decision he makes. Essentially, Gasol’s three most likely options are:
1.) Take the largest contract offered by a probable lottery-bound team.
2.) Take a significant pay cut from his 2013-14 salary ($19 million) to play with a team closer to contention.
3.) Re-sign with the Lakers at a discounted rate with faith in the front office’s ability to turn things around with all of their cap space and flexibility.
Obviously, there would be pros and cons to each scenario, but it is highly unlikely you’ll see Gasol decide to simply go with the highest bidder. At this point in his career, the thrill or at least chance of victory is more of a motivating factor than a monetary figure.
“I’m going to listen to the Lakers and what they have to offer, and what they’ll say about the team’s situation and position at that time,” Gasol said. “We know what it is today, but we don’t know what it’ll be on July 1.”
While we probably should anticipate a revamped version of the previously-used “Stay” billboard campaign, the Lakers are expected to pursue re-signing Gasol. For the first time in his career, Gasol actually holds all the cards. It will be interesting to see how things are shaping as we get closer to late-June, and how he decides to play them.
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