Pros and Cons of LA Lakers Re-Signing Pau Gasol This Offseason
Almost the entire roster is coming off the books at the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign, one that seems likely to end after just 82 games. And that includes a certain Spanish big man who has played in a purple-and-gold uniform ever since he was traded away from the Memphis Grizzlies.
But, should the Lakers re-sign Gasol?
It's a question that general manager Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the front office will toy with throughout the upcoming season, evaluating his play as well as how he fits in with the future plans.
Going into the 2013-14 campaign, there are already a few pros and cons to bringing back the 7-footer who averaged 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last year.
Let's take a look at 'em.
Pro: History with the Team
Doesn't that picture look strange?
Even though Gasol spent the first 6.5 years of his career with the Memphis Grizzlies, he's become so associated with the Lakers that it just seems weird to see him in any other uniform. He's a member of the Lake Show through and through, and seeing him portrayed as anything else is just nonsensical.
Maybe it's revisionist history, but the Memphis portion of his career has been completely trumped by the 5.5 seasons he's spent in Tinseltown.
Gasol has been named to four All-Star teams, and three of those were with the Lakers. He's won two championships, and both of them came while he was wearing purple and gold.
Even though more of his basketball career came in barbecue country, he still has become one of the truest members of Lakers Nation. These are the kind of players who you can't let go of without a fight.
Every once in a while (cough Paul Pierce cough), one of the players who you just aren't able to picture in a different jersey switches things up on you. But more often than not, the players like Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade stay put.
While Gasol hasn't spent his entire career with one franchise like the other guys I just mentioned, he still belongs in that category.
Con: Unwillingness to Take a Pay Cut
When asked by the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina about whether or not he'd take a pay cut next offseason, the Spanish 7-footer had this to say: "Probably not. You have to explore your options, but I would like to continue to play for the Lakers and maybe finish my career here. But you have to see the cards on the table.”
It's an understandable stance.
Who wouldn't want to see what the options look like? Anyone who is blaming Gasol for this quote obviously hasn't been a part of negotiations before.
But the Lakers really can't afford to pay the big man as much money as he'd like. Another contract that pays him $19 million per year severely cripples the much-coveted financial flexibility that the organization has been striving for throughout the offseason.
Just imagine if Los Angeles has both Kobe Bryant and Gasol on the books for around a combined $49 million. So much for being able to add younger superstars who can usher in the next era of Lakers basketball.
Without a significant pay cut, it'll be tough to justify keeping Gasol around on a long-term deal.
Pro: Continued Level of Excellence
At the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign, things weren't looking so hot for No. 16.
It appeared as though he was finally washed up and doomed to take his enormous salary to the bench for extended periods of time. His shots weren't falling, and he just didn't seem to fit into the L.A. system with any semblance of comfort.
But then Gasol reminded us why he's still one of the most talented big men in the Association.
Over his last 13 appearances in 2012-13, the Spaniard averaged 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting a cool 50 percent from the field. During the postseason series against the San Antonio Spurs, Gasol put up 14 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists per contest on 54.5 percent shooting in Kobe's absence.
While functioning as the clear focus of Gregg Popovich's defensive game-planning, Gasol still couldn't be stopped. If the postseason was pudding, then the proof was in it.
Gasol is still an elite player.
In fact, I currently have him as the No. 32 player in the NBA, in that same tier of power forwards that's occupied by David West, Blake Griffin and Josh Smith. It's the tier of fringe All-Stars, and that's exactly how I'd describe this particular Laker going forward.
It's no secret that Gasol's age is starting to get up there.
He's still playing at an elite level, but how much longer can that type of success be sustained? How many more quality years does he have left in the tank? How quickly will he be able to recover from the inevitable injuries suffered due to the wear and tear of a grueling NBA season?
Gasol is 33 years old right now, and he'll be turning 34 next July.
Unfortunately, the number of players who can find top-level success with that many years under their belt isn't too high. The Tim Duncans and Kobe Bryants of the world are few and far between.
Here's the list of active players who were also born in 1980, courtesy of Basketball-Reference: Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Keith Bogans, Matt Bonner, Caron Butler, Nick Collison, Jamal Crawford, Keyon Dooling, Mike Dunleavy, Reggie Evans, Al Harrington, Udonis Haslem, Richard Jefferson, Dahntay Jones, James Jones, Roger Mason Jr., Mike Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Vladimir Radmanovic, Quentin Richardson, Luis Scola, Luke Walton, David West and Damien Wilkins.
How many of those players can realistically be considered stars? Just West, although you could still point to Barnes, Butler and Crawford as above-average players.
Like I said, the older players who maintain elite levels of success are few and far between.
The Lakers have to consider Gasol's age when they're deciding what to do with the big man. At the very least, it'll be tough to justify signing him to a long-term contract that borders on a max-level deal.
Pro: Easy to Build Around
Who can't Gasol play with?
Although he struggled to find success with Dwight Howard on the court, that was more due to the coaching staff limiting his style of play and not allowing him to function as one of the offensive hubs.
Due to Gasol's versatility, he can mesh with just about anyone as long as he's allowed to do so.
If you need the big man to score from the post, he can do exactly that. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he averaged 0.87 points per possession in post-up situations, a mark beaten out by only 54 qualified players in the NBA.
If you need him to serve as a facilitator, that's his speciality. As shown by Hoopdata.com, Josh McRoberts was the only power forward who played at least 20 minutes per game even in the same realm as Gasol in terms of passing.
Need him to shoot the ball?
Sure, no problem. Gasol can stretch the court with the best of them, although his three-point range looks much better with that international FIBA arc than the longer NBA one.
Because he can do anything a coach wants from the 4 (or the 5), keeping Gasol in no way limits the type of players the Lakers can pursue.
Con: Prevents the Lakers from Splurging on a Center
Or does it?
This isn't about Dwight Howard.
With the right system in place, the two big men would have been able to coexist and find quite a bit of success next to one another. The Lakers were outscored by 1.5 points per 100 possessions when Gasol and D12 were both on the court last season, but that's by no means a nail in the coffin.
The bigger concern is that there's no need to chase a center while Gasol is in place. Having a dominant 5 next to him is a luxury, and the Lakers would be better served pursuing options that would actually be more necessary in the quest for success.
But at the same time, it's tough to win titles without a dominant center unless you're the Miami Heat and just boast a ridiculous amount of talent. Finding a center is of paramount importance in today's NBA, and it becomes less of a priority with Gasol on board.
Until he retires and the team is left scrambling. This con wouldn't manifest itself for a while, but it would be a harsh reality when Gasol pulls the plug on his playing career.
There are certainly merits to both sides of the debate, especially when you factor in the see-saw action created by Gasol's status as a fan favorite and the Lakers' need to move on into the next era of L.A. basketball.
But it all comes down to one factor: money.
During an offseason in which the Lakers are going to be attempting to squeeze everything out of the salary cap, the franchise can't afford to hand out around $19 million per year to a 34-year-old big man. That's just a poor fiscal decision, even if he has history with the team and continues to be a great, easy-to-build-around player.
If Gasol is willing to take any sort of pay cut, the narrative changes. The Lakers would presumably love to have him back for all of the reasons listed above and throughout this article, but it has to be a business decision.
Because of that, there's no clear-cut verdict.
This could still swing in either direction, and Gasol's play throughout the 2013-14 season will dictate both his immediate and distant future.