GM Mitch Kupchak: Lakers Have 'Great Interest' in Re-Signing Pau Gasol

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIApril 14, 2014

Mitch Kupchak, Los Angeles Lakers general manager, speaks to reporers about the upcoming season, Wednesday Sept. 25, 2013, in El Segundo, Calif. Kupchak says Kobe Bryant was at the NBA basketball team's training complex almost every morning this summer, working aggressively to return from surgery on his torn left Achilles' tendon. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Nick Ut

Los Angeles Lakers veteran big man Pau Gasol won’t play again during the 2013-14 campaign due to a bout of vertigo. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. His last game in a purple-and-gold uniform may very well have been the April 1 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers, but there’s an outside chance the Spaniard could return to Lakerland.

“There’s great interest in re-signing Pau back,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “I don’t know why there would not be interest. He’s a Hall of Famer. But by virtue of being a free agent, he’s in the market place. By being in the market place, we have to see how things play out.”

Gasol experienced a bounce-back season after a career-worst 2012-13 campaign in which he averaged career lows by scoring 13.7 points per game on 46.6 percent field-goal shooting.

Pau Gasol's Stats By Year

His on-court turnaround was highlighted by a torrid January. During 2014’s first 31 days, the skilled 7-footer averaged 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 blocks while shooting 51 percent from the floor. Those All-Star-caliber numbers were in stark contrast to the mediocre stats he posted in November and December.

If Gasol can still play up to his usual standards, then he’ll have plenty of value on the free-agent market this summer. The Lakers may have “great interest” in re-signing him, but the two-time champion will turn 34 years old in July.

March 19, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) moves to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

L.A. already has more than $33.2 million invested in the aging backcourt tandem of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. As a result, the Lakers need to focus on getting younger. Bringing back an increasingly injury-prone Gasol—who will miss 22 games this season all told—is a considerable risk in that regard.

Ultimately, the market will dictate Gasol’s value. He’ll have to take a pay cut compared to his 2013-14 salary. However, the Lakers probably wouldn't invest in him long-term—in other words, beyond the length of Bryant’s two-year extension—even if they can re-sign him at a bargain.

Even though the Spaniard said in February that his “preference would be to stay,” according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, a multi-year deal is more favorable for him at this point of his career.

Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding believes that Gasol’s time in L.A. will come to an end, having written in February, “Both the Lakers and Gasol, who’ve had a working relationship marked by a refreshing sort of maturity, understand it’s time to part.”

Kupchak may decide to bring the four-time All-Star back to make one final playoff run with Bryant, but don’t be surprised if Gasol has played his last game in a Lakers uniform.