The question of whether to re-sign Los Angeles Lakers free agent Pau Gasol has been debated all season long, and it will continue to be, until he actually makes his mark on the dotted line somewhere else.
And, if he and management do somehow come to a meeting of the minds, that will also be debated, for the duration of his new contract.
This is the never-ending conundrum for the two-time NBA champion—a man who is revered by Lakers Nation, but who also brings a sense of battle fatigue from years of endless trade rumors and two seasons of feuding with current coach Mike D’Antoni.
To most observers, it would seem as if the 7-footer has one giant foot outside the door already. The Lakers are clearly in a rebuild mode, and the veteran free agent, now in his 14th season, can’t possibly be in their long-term plans.
Pau Gasol will sign with #Spurs as free agent in offseason. One more Finals push for Tim Duncan’s last hurrah. Would be insane.— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) March 15, 2014
As Kevin Ding for Bleacher Report writes: "Both the Lakers and Gasol, who’ve had a working relationship marked by a refreshing sort of maturity, understand it’s time to part.”
Ding leaves the door ever-so-slightly open for the Spaniard to return, in the event of a coaching change.
So what are the pros and cons of re-signing this sublimely talented big man?
The Case for Gasol Staying
Despite the Lakers’ abysmal record this season, their starting center is showing that he still has game. D’Antoni’s small-ball offense may not suit his style, but he’s averaging an impressive 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 blocks through 59 games, at an economical 31.5 minutes per game.
Moreover, his per 36 stats are higher than at any other time during his L.A. stay—at 20 points and 11.2 boards.
There’s also the matter of support from superstar teammate Kobe Bryant, who will be intensely motivated next season, after a long, frustrating layoff.
Ric Bucher for Bleacher Report recently reported on the Mamba’s confidence that his longtime running partner would be re-signed.
For those who missed it, Bryant told me before last week’s battle-for-L.A. bragging rights between the Clippers and Lakers that on a scale of 1 to 10 he’d put the chances of forward/center Pau Gasol playing for the Lakers next season at an “8.”
With the right coach, a top five draft pick, a healthy Bryant, Gasol and Nash, plus a couple of modestly priced, yet effective, pickups in this summer’s free-agency market, the Lakers could at least be competitive once again.
In such a scenario, the offense would switch back toward the inside-out game that has worked so well in the past, with Gasol utilizing his superb court vision and passing skills to release the ball out of the low post to the open man—namely Bryant.
Plus, at the end of the 2014-15 season, Nash’s $9,701,000 will come off the books, per Spotrac, allowing the Lakers to get right back into the free agency chase, with a much deeper class, including Kevin Love.
Reasons Not to Re-Sign Gasol
The first and most obvious detriment for Gasol staying is the case of sticker shock—he may not be able to duplicate his current $19,285,850 on the open market but he can still command a healthy price and a multiyear deal. It’s easy to theorize about him taking a pay cut to remain a Laker but is there any evidence to support that?
Even bringing him back at a discount would seriously hinder the Lakers’ ability to sign other meaningful free agents.
And why on earth should he pass up one last big paycheck and perhaps a unique opportunity somewhere else? Who knows, maybe Phil Jackson can conjure up some salary space and form a new triangle for Gasol and the New York Knicks.
There’s also the simple case of age and health.
The man from Barcelona has logged a lot of miles, both in the NBA and overseas. His knees are creaky, his questionable defensive skills have declined even further with the passage of time and bringing him back is just forestalling the inevitable.
You can also add a puzzling case of vertigo that has sidelined the center for the past week. It’s oddly apropos for a dizzyingly dyslexic season—the Lakers lost Friday night on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 143-107. That is not a typo.
This is game is hard to watch— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 29, 2014
What’s the Conclusion?
You can make a case for trying to keep the four-time All-Star, but it’s a little like trying to slip through a rapidly closing door. Gasol deserves the gratitude of all Laker fans—for his years of service, his patience and civility and his tremendous skillset.
He is a future Hall of Famer and someday his jersey will hang from the Staples rafters.
Time cannot be defeated, however, it can only be cheated—fleetingly.
Once upon a time, Gasol was the NBA rookie of the year. He can still enjoy his last moments in the NBA sun, hopefully with a team that is already a title contender.
The Lakers, however, are looking to the future and that means fresh legs and an aggressive, all-out rebuild campaign.
It’s time to let Pau go and say "Thanks for the memories."
And get started on making some new ones.