The 2013-14 season was expected to be Pau Gasol’s opportunity to put a tumultuous 2012-13 behind him, but with even more drama and no clear resolution in sight, it’s time for Gasol to end the soap opera himself.
At 33 years old and with the best basketball of his career behind him, there is simply no reason for Gasol to waste away on a sub-.500 Los Angeles Lakers squad that will ultimately need a miracle just to manage a seventh or eighth seed.
A resurgence was expected from Gasol this season after he battled health issues and averaged just 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 46.6 percent shooting playing opposite Dwight Howard, but persistent clashes with Mike D’Antoni have made it abundantly clear that things are not going to magically improve.
With Kobe Bryant sidelined, the Lakers are at a talent disadvantage practically every time they suit up. Even if Gasol was playing like he did during L.A.’s championship runs, this would be a lottery team.
It was undoubtedly a successful pairing, but it’s time for Gasol to do what is best and demand a trade. The situation has passed the breaking point, and for a variety of reasons asking out of Los Angeles is the only logical choice for the All-Star big man.
Getting an Early Start on Free Agency
Even with his relatively disappointing 2013-14 numbers, Gasol will still be among the most coveted free agents in the 2014 offseason, particularly if players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don’t opt out of their current contracts.
Gasol earns $19.3 million this season. While he will certainly be taking a pay cut, he could still earn himself an extra few million dollars and added job security if he lands elsewhere and plays well.
D’Antoni’s offensive system will never allow Gasol to shine offensively. He does not receive enough paint touches and is forced to play further and further away from the basket to create floor spacing.
Of Gasol’s 406 attempted field goals, just 127 of them have been within five feet of the hoop, per NBA.com.
The current version of Gasol is a player worth maybe $8 million a season, but he could easily inflate his value to somewhere in the eight-figure range by reeling off 25 or 30 strong games with another franchise.
Health issues are certainly part of Gasol’s drop in production, but the fact is he will never be able to play his best basketball with D’Antoni’s Lakers, since the coach has never successfully been able to merge his uptempo offense with Gasol’s post-up abilities.
Gasol’s future is likely not with the Lakers, as Bryant’s mammoth contract extension makes it unlikely they can bring in enough top-shelf talent to reestablish themselves as title contenders. By staying in L.A. he is actually costing himself a good deal of money going forward.
Controlling His Own Fate
While Gasol cannot choose where he lands, he could have more of an input if he is vocal about wanting a deal instead of simply waiting for the Lakers to pounce on what they believe is the best offer.
But the Cavs are not an ideal landing spot for Gasol.
Cleveland has a slew of frontcourt players already in the rotation, and a deal centered on the recently suspended Bynum would not open up many minutes for Gasol immediately.
While it is naive to assume Gasol could completely dictate the course of a trade, he could certainly have some input in the decision-making process, since teams will be more hesitant to trade for the unrestricted free agent if they are aware that he has certain desired landing spots.
By giving input on where he wants to end up, Gasol could also help secure himself more money in the summer, since whichever team he is dealt to will control his Bird Rights and be able to pay him more than other suitors.
Gasol is not a player like Howard or Carmelo Anthony who can simply force a trade to a specific location, but he could have an impact if he is willing to speak up.
Clashes with D’Antoni
The issues between Gasol and D’Antoni started basically as soon as he was hired, and it is unlikely the Lakers are willing to fire D’Antoni to appease Gasol, who may be in his final months with the team anyway.
D’Antoni is in the midst of a three-year contract. Since Los Angeles already had to pay Mike Brown following his termination, it may be willing to stick with D’Antoni through his deal even if the returns have not exactly been positive.
The 2013-14 Lakers are a pretty mediocre team on both sides of the ball, but they have been ravaged with injuries. It is not fair to place the blame for their struggles solely on D’Antoni.
For much of the season, L.A.’s best player has been Xavier Henry, and few coaches in the league could be expected to pilot this team to a winning record in a brutal Western Conference.
Still, the friction between Gasol and D’Antoni is too much to sweep under the rug. It is detrimental to the success of the entire team, and there is no reason to think that it will be any better in 2014-15, especially if the Lakers cannot land a game-changing free agent.
Signing D’Antoni was never a decision that made sense for a club with one of the league’s best back-to-the-basket players. Unless radical changes are made to the Lakers’ offensive system, it would be foolish of Gasol to stick around and keep being used improperly.
Let’s think about what would happen if Gasol sticks out the rest of 2013-14 with the Lakers.
His numbers will likely stay around the 15.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists he is currently averaging. Hopefully his career-low 44.3 field goal percentage rebounds slightly. But it may not, given the amount of outside shots Gasol has to jack up and the burden he must carry for this banged-up team.
Los Angeles is already showing that it may not be capable of hovering around .500 without Bryant, and the superstar 2-guard is still far from returning. The Western Conference playoff picture is beginning to solidify already, and it would be a miracle if the Lakers made it in.
Should Gasol demand a trade?
Players like Henry, Nick Young and Jordan Farmar are having good years, but they are not the kind of supporting cast a club should have if it wants to be a factor in the playoffs.
The team could decide to simply throw away the season and either shelve Gasol with an injury or trade him for an underwhelming package based around draft picks. But that would likely put the Spanish star somewhere he does not want to be.
In the offseason, there is no guarantee the Lakers pursue Gaso. They could opt to spend their money elsewhere or give him a low-ball offer in the hope that he returns because of his history with Los Angeles.
Does any of this sound like it makes sense for Gasol’s future? Didn’t think so.
As we all learned from Omer Asik’s saga, requesting a trade is not necessarily a clear-cut solution. But in the case of Gasol and the Lakers, it is the necessary move.