Speaking of Gasol's future, he recently expressed his desire to stay with the Lakers organization after the final year of his $19.3 million contract expires next summer, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:
I would love to play for the franchise that I love playing for, that I’m proud to be a part of. It would be great to continue to play for the Lakers.
Gasol’s willingness to remain with the franchise even after being benched last season proves he is a consummate professional. He told Pincus that he holds no hard feelings after being benched by coach Mike D’Antoni in an effort to bring Dwight Howard’s offensive game to life:
I understood and understand it was a difficult situation for a lot of people, to make things work. As difficult as it was at times, now it's behind us and all we can do is focus on the present and what's coming. I don't hold grudges. I really don't get stuck in the past.
With the Howard saga in their rear view mirror, the Lakers are now focused on returning to the NBA Finals with the players that have stayed.
But team management is not being narrow-sighted in its efforts. In fact, it is shooting for the stars.
According to ESPN, the Lakers are planning to pursue elite free agents like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony next summer. James is reportedly expected to “use the same guiding principles that he had back in 2010: the talent on the prospective rosters and the chance they can lead to multiple chances at championships.”
As it stands right now, though, the Lakers' roster may not be appealing to LeBron or any of the other top-tier free agents. However, the willingness of Kobe Bryant and Gasol—both up for new contracts next summer—to accept less-fruitful contracts, may help convince a superstar or two to land at the Staples Center for multiple title runs before Bryant retires.
Bryant is planning to play two or three more seasons, but it’s always possible that he would stick around longer in the right situation.
Making a play for one or two max-level players will take some scrupulous financial work by the Lakers. However Steve Nash’s $9.7 million salary could be voided under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement. As a result, the Lakers could spread that money out over three years on the books, opening enough cap room to potentially sign two max contracts.
The team also has nine players that will become unrestricted free agents next season. If Gasol and Bryant are signed to favorable deals, the possibility will certainly be there for the team to make a splash.
Either way, without Gasol’s commitment and hopeful willingness to sign a favorable contract, it would be a lot harder to orchestrate the type of offseason coup the Lakers are reportedly brewing.
*All contract information used in this report was provided by Spotrac.com.