After plodding through years of scrutiny from media members and fans while also butting heads with his new coach and experiencing back-to-back disappointing seasons, Los Angeles Lakers veteran big man Pau Gasol would still prefer a return to Lakerland in 2014 NBA free agency.
“My preference would be to stay,” Gasol said, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. “That’s what I’ve been saying all year, though the circumstances are difficult right now for our team and nobody’s too happy. But it’s still my team and I still want to be here.”
Although the Spaniard stated that preferring to stay with the Lakers beyond the 2013-14 season is what he’s been saying all year, Gasol actually alluded to a possible return to the Memphis Grizzlies in December.
He may have been baited by the question, but according to NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper, Gasol said the thought of a Memphis return is “appealing.”
He added, “One of the best centers in the NBA, one of the best interior players, is my brother. There’s a lot of attractive factors there. But who knows if that’s even a possibility or if that will ever happen.”
So while Gasol reportedly wants to stay in L.A., he’s at least entertained the idea of returning to the Grizzlies to play alongside his brother Marc.
The two-time champion and four-time All-Star will become an unrestricted free agent this summer when his contract of more than $19.2 million expires. At this moment, it’s not even a guarantee that Gasol will spend the remainder of the season with the Lakers.
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the Lakers were in talks with the Cleveland Cavaliers regarding a possible deal centering on injury-prone big man Andrew Bynum. He was eventually traded to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.
Will Pau Gasol still be a Laker in 2014-15?
Gasol has experienced a tumultuous stint in L.A. with some high highs and low lows.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding believes the veteran will be gone either way (via trade or free agency), and I agree with his assessment. It’s difficult to imagine Gasol staying put as a free agent regardless of what he prefers.
He had a great run with the Lakers that included winning two championship rings, but it’s time for him to get a change of scenery. Parting ways would be the best-case scenario for both parties involved.
Gasol could find a place that would revitalize his NBA career and allow him to play at a high level with lower expectations. The Lakers, meanwhile, need to get younger. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are a combined 75 years old, and they're both under contract in 2014-15 to the tune of more than $33 million.
Even if general manager Mitch Kupchak decides to invest in 26-year-old Jordan Hill moving forward, it will be a better long-term choice over the injury-prone, soon-to-be 34-year-old Gasol.