5 Ideal Free-Agent Landing Spots for Pau Gasol During 2014 Offseason

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIApril 14, 2014

5 Ideal Free-Agent Landing Spots for Pau Gasol During 2014 Offseason

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    Jae C. Hong

    Four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol will have his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers come off the books at season’s end—making him an unrestricted free agent. Although the Spaniard has regressed statistically in recent years, his offensive repertoire as a 7-footer will undoubtedly intrigue a plethora of teams this summer.

    While Gasol did experience a bounce-back season compared to his career-worst 2012-13 campaign, he’s poised to miss a total of 22 games due to a variety of injuries and a bout with vertigo. He’ll turn 34 years old in July, so there’s clearly some risk-versus-reward factors at play.

    If he returns to form by playing at the high level he displayed in January—when he averaged 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 blocks per game—then he’ll be an absolute steal for the team that signs him. By contrast, there’s always a chance he could continue shooting under 50 percent from the floor while fighting off a rash of injuries.

    Even if the wily veteran regresses statistically, though, he’d still be seen as a huge interior upgrade for a variety of teams.

    Mike Trudell of Lakers.com said via Twitter that Gasol is "excited to speak with multiple teams" and that "his mind is open."

    The odds he returns to L.A. seem slim, but there are other ideal landing spots where he could spend his 14th professional season.

     

    All salary information courtesy of Shamsports.com.

Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Tony Gutierrez

    Even though B/R’s Kevin Ding believes that the Lakers will part ways with the man who helped the franchise win back-to-back titles, there’s an outside chance the aging Lakers will eschew speculation that Gasol has already played his last game in purple and gold.

    “There’s great interest in re-signing Pau,” 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.”

    Lakers management may be intrigued with the prospect of bringing Gasol back to L.A., but he’s not the best fit for the future. He’ll be 34 years old by the start of 2014-15. Lakerland needs to place an emphasis on getting younger, considering that Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are under contract to the tune of more than $33.2 million.

    Gasol’s presence may be enough to vault the Lakers back into the playoff picture, but that would only be possible if the three aging stars get healthy. Color me skeptical.

    That fails to mention the fickle beast that is the loaded Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns, for instance, would be comfortably in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but likely won't make it out West—which shows the conference’s depth of talent.

    The Lakers have plenty of roster spots to fill during the offseason. They may need to engage in a coaching search as well if Mike D’Antoni gets fired. Bringing back Gasol makes sense in some respects, but he’ll probably opt for a long-term deal elsewhere after years of being involved in trade rumors.

5. Sacramento Kings

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    Mark J. Terrill

    Pau Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins playing in the same frontcourt together? I’m fascinated.

    Despite the intrigue, this signing is certainly a long shot. The veteran Spaniard likely won’t want to join a young, rebuilding team, and the Sacramento Kings already have numerous frontcourt players—Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Derrick Williams—clogging the depth chart and salary cap.

    Nevertheless, the Kings desperately need to add a veteran presence around young upstarts like Cousins and point guard Isaiah Thomas. As a four-time All-Star with two championship rings to his name, Gasol would command respect in Sacramento’s locker room and give the Kings a deadly one-two scoring punch down low.

    On the downside, Gasol isn’t a stellar defensive player, so he wouldn’t be able to cover Boogie’s weaknesses on that end of the court. His offensive repertoire is also similar to that of Cousins, so the Kings would run the risk of having a dueling banjos scenario by adding him.

    If Rudy Gay declines his player option for next season, that would open up cap space for Sac-Town to overpay Gasol and lure him in as a mentor who could also help the roster win games in the short term.

4. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Jae C. Hong

    The Memphis Grizzlies will have a surplus of tough decisions to make during the 2014 offseason. Chief of which will be determining the best plan of action for the team’s frontcourt.

    Incumbent starting big man Zach Randolph, for instance, has a player option for 2014-15 that would pay him more than $16.9 million. If he declines that option, opts out and becomes a free agent, then Memphis will be in a tight spot.

    Of his involvement in trade rumors earlier this season, Randolph said, “It bothers me. It hurts a little bit. I can’t deny that. But it goes to show you that there ain’t no loyalty in this game,” per NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury.

    Randolph was understandably miffed by the front office dangling him in trade talks, but he also said, “Memphis is a place that I’ve come to love and call home and it’s where I would definitely like to retire. I haven’t made any secret of that. Everybody out there knows how I feel.”

    The interior presence is a fan favorite in Memphis, but if another team swoops in and offers him big money, then the Grizzlies may opt for cheaper guys to replace the veteran.

    Pau Gasol is just one year older than Randolph and has already expressed interest in returning to his old stomping grounds with the Grizz.

    “It’s appealing. One of the best centers in the NBA, one of the best interior players, is my brother,” the older brother said of Marc Gasol, per NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper. “There’s a lot of attractive factors there. But who knows if that’s even a possibility or if that will ever happen.”

    In addition to focusing on Randolph, promising power forward Ed Davis will become a restricted free agent at season’s end. The North Carolina product is much younger than Gasol and Randolph—he'll be 25 this summer—so Memphis could also embrace a youth movement by investing in his potential long term.

    Seeing the Gasol brothers play side by side in the NBA would be very entertaining, but a lot of factors have to play out before it becomes a legitimate option.

3. Charlotte Bobcats

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Here’s a quick rundown of the Charlotte Bobcats:

    Are they a team on the rise looking to bring in additional pieces? Yes.

    Did signing veteran big man Al Jefferson pay off in a huge way despite the hefty cap hit and his complete ineptitude on defense? Yes, thanks to head coach Steve Clifford.

    Are they currently relying on guys like Josh McRoberts, Bismack Biyombo and Anthony Tolliver to hold down the fort around “Big Al” in the frontcourt? That’s a resounding and unfortunate "yes."

    In addition to those three factors, the ‘Cats (soon to be Hornets) will have plenty of cap space this summer when the contracts of Ben Gordon ($13.2 million) and Luke Ridnour (more than $4.3 million) come off the books.

    As a result, they’ll undoubtedly be a dark-horse contender to land key free agents during the 2014 offseason. Is it possible that Gasol will be high on their wish list?

    Slotting him next to Jefferson in the post would make Charlotte a nightmare to defend down low. Quite simply, he’d be a massive upgrade compared to McRoberts, who’s averaging 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in 76 starts.

    With Clifford’s defensive-minded schemes already in place, adding a reliable third scoring option alongside Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker would make the Bobcats a very intriguing team in the hapless Eastern Conference.

    Charlotte won’t have a first-round pick within the top 10 selections for the first time since 2010. As a result, continuing to revamp the roster through free agency has to be the team’s goal.

2. Phoenix Suns

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Much like the Charlotte Bobcats, the Phoenix Suns are an upstart NBA team with plenty of youth and upside. Unlike the organization owned by Michael Jordan, however, the Suns have actually been attached to Gasol rumors in the recent past.

    According to a February report from ESPN’s Marc Stein, Phoenix was interested in the veteran’s services and explored options for a possible trade to bring him to the desert.

    Those talks broke down, however, when the Lakers insisted on receiving an asset (first-round draft pick or young player) in addition to the cap relief they’d receive by dealing him for injured big man Emeka Okafor.

    The Suns could have used Gasol’s veteran knowhow down the stretch of the regular season, but perhaps it’s for the better that they didn’t part with assets to acquire him as a potential two-month rental. Now general manager Ryan McDonough can look to acquire him on a cheaper salary.

    The Suns already have a plethora of talented young players in addition to multiple first-round draft picks in 2014. What the roster needs moving forward is an established veteran presence.

    Gasol fits the bill as a dependable low-post scorer—something Phoenix has been lacking since the departure of Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010.

    The Suns were at their best this season when they got out in transition, attacked the basket and knocked down threes. They became stagnant offensively at times when having to run half-court sets.

    Gasol would immediately alleviate those struggles by either posting up on the block or running pick-and-roll offense with the backcourt tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.

    He may not be the best fit in Jeff Hornacek’s fast-paced system, but he’s a proven champion with plenty of playoff experience—something the Suns are lacking.

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    As an unrestricted free agent, Pau Gasol will be able to choose any destination that shows significant interest in him. And while joining forces with his brother in Memphis or with promising teams far along in the rebuilding process (Charlotte or Phoenix) is appealing, signing on with Gregg Popovich and the juggernaut San Antonio Spurs would certainly attract the soon-to-be 34-year-old.

    Assuming that future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan picks up his $10 million player option for 2014-15 in lieu of retirement, the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would have at least one final hurrah with the dynasty they’ve built.

    The goal in San Antonio is winning championships, and adding a player as talented as Gasol would be a dynamic final piece to that puzzle.

    Tiago Splitter’s four-year, $36 million contract with the Spurs hasn’t paid off thus far. He’s regressed statistically by averaging just 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and fans seem to forget that he isn’t a youngster. The Brazilian made his NBA arrival in 2010-11, but he’s already 29 years old.

    Gasol would be a huge upgrade by comparison, and he’d fit in extremely well with Popovich—honestly, what player wouldn’t? The 33-year-old frequently butted heads with Mike D'Antoni through the media in L.A. because he wasn't happy with his role. It's impossible to see that narrative playing out under Coach Pop.

    Even if Pau only gets offered a one-year deal to chase a third ring with San Antonio, that’s still an intriguing short-term option.

    With the contracts of Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner set to expire, the Spurs will have some wiggle room with free-agent negotiations. Landing Gasol would send a message to the rest of the Association that they’re dead set on winning a title in 2015.