In a few months' time, Gasol will enter free agency, at which point the Lakers are expected to let him walk.
But wait. Maybe not.
"There’s great interest in re-signing Pau back,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. "I don’t know why there would not be interest."
Um, maybe because it's actually in the best interests of both parties for there not to be interest, Mitch?
For the better part of seven years, Gasol has donned purple and gold, never once wavering in loyalty, even though the Lakers—ahem: Chris Paul—cannot say the same. He's scored, he's passed, he's occasionally defended.
He's won. He's done everything they've asked, everything they've ever needed.
Now he and the Lakers need to move on.
No Country for More Old Men
Let's just say it: Gasol is old. In NBA years, he's ancient, an active wearer of Velcro orthopedic sneakers and observer of toothless Thursday and I-forgot-the-NBA-has-a-three-point-line Friday.
That kind of old.
The Lakers have no business investing in the timeworn Gasol. Pushing 34, he can no longer be relied upon to remain healthy. He played in just 49 games last season and only 60 this year. Dependability, unlike wine and cheese—and Jennifer Aniston—doesn't get better with age.
And the Lakers have plenty of age.
Most of the contracts the Lakers have on their books next season belong to hoary, overpaid veterans who incite just as many questions as Gasol.
There's the 40-year-old Steve Nash, who will either retire or keep on playing in hopes of redeeming his aging, broken self and collecting every cent of the $9.7 million he's owed. And then there's the 35-going-on-36-year-old Kobe Bryant, who was handed an extension worth nearly $50 million and has appeared in only six games all year.
Keeping Gasol is too much. The Lakers have met their quota of oldies-but-hopefully-goodies. There's no need to further burden themselves with even more uncertainty while also increasing demand for early-bird dinner coupons.
Money Not Well Spent
Assume for a minute that the Lakers' interest in retaining Gasol turns into a depicted need.
Talented 7-footers are hard to find. They cannot be plucked from the mountains outside of Greek mythology. So once you find one, you hold on to him, never letting go, Rob Gronkowski-steak-deathgrip style.
This summer's free-agency class doesn't make Gasol expendable. Aside from Chris Bosh, there aren't any talented bigs worth paying. Not unless the Lakers are smitten by Marcin Gortat's charm.
But while the temptation to keep Gasol for his sheer combination of size and coordination alone is there, the Lakers must avoid succumbing to its power.
In order to make use of the cap space fans are excited about, the Lakers will have to renounce the rights to all their free agents, Gasol included; otherwise, his $19.3 million salary figure will count against their books.
Negotiating a salary reduction does little to incentivize Gasol's return as well. After paying Bryant an obscene amount of cash, the Lakers aren't in a position to offer Gasol close to anything substantial, as ESPN.com's J.A. Adande observes:
The fans showed their appreciation, giving him a warm cheer when he was showed on the scoreboard video screen late in the game. Will the Lakers do anything similar -- something along the lines of the golden parachute they granted Kobe Bryant? The Kobe contract might actually preclude a Gasol gift by eating up too much salary cap room. Gasol can’t expect to match the $19 million he made this season; he might get about half of that, from what some general managers say. It's also possible that the Lakers could sign him to a short deal that would give them the possibility of using him as a trade asset next season.
Anything the Lakers give Gasol cuts into their financial flexibility, which is more of a problem next summer than it is this offseason.
As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding has reminded us on multiple occasions, the Lakers envision being major players in 2015, not 2014. Unless Gasol is willing to accept a one-year deal, both his and Bryant's sizable contracts will limit Los Angeles' spending power considerably next summer.
Buh-bye, Kevin Love. Or Rajon Rondo. Or LeBron James.
Inking a one-year pact also isn't a realistic or sensible option for the 13-year veteran. This will be his last chance to cash in on free agency. If he's already tracking toward a 50 percent pay cut like Adande says, then he'll want to maximize the longevity of his next contract, ensuring he makes as much as possible for as long as possible.
None of that fits in with what the Lakers are trying do.
Using him as trade bait doesn't justify his return, either. It makes sense in theory, but the Lakers assume all the risk. There's no guarantee there's a market for his services next season, nor is the return assured of being worthwhile if there is interest.
All re-signing Gasol does is create financial headaches the Lakers have spent the last few years trying to evade. He precludes them from adding a superstar both this summer and next, without the added luxury of vaulting them back into contention.
Look to the Future, Not the Past
Parting ways with Gasol will be difficult, but doing what's necessary is rarely easy.
Gasol has had a nice run with the Lakers, and he remains someone fans can appreciate.
Trade rumors cast a shadow over his final seasons, but as our own Grant Hughes explains, Gasol's relationship with the Lakers has been mutually beneficial:
Gasol gave the Lakers plenty: great statistics, a legitimate second star and a whole load of class. He owes them nothing.
The Lakers gave Gasol a few things, too: rings, a chance to showcase his skills on the biggest stage and a bunch of money. They probably owe him an apology, but that's a marginal debt, all things considered.
The point is, both parties benefited from getting together—even if things got a little rocky toward the end. As much as anything, seeing a relationship that had so many highs end on such a low is what makes this situation sad.
Sad, but necessary.
Much of Gasol's time in Los Angeles was spent winning and contending, making his departure that much harder to accept. But it must be accepted. Only then can both parties find closure.
The Lakers and Gasol are moving in two different directions. He's an aging veteran looking to capitalize on his remaining value while contending for a championship. The Lakers are in the midst of an abbreviated rebuild they hope yields both young, promising talent and enough wins to keep Bryant in line.
For his part, Gasol needs a measurable support system. The Lakers have done nothing but turn on him since 2011. A trade rumor here, a trade rumor there. It never ends.
When you mistakenly think it ends, it starts up again. Gasol is rendered expendable through speculation. That's not going to change. Incidentally, that's also no way to end your career.
Chief among everything else—ahead of the money and the age—is winning. Gasol wants to win. The Lakers aren't ready to win. Not yet. And they most certainly won't be ready to win any sooner if they keep Gasol.
"Where can I win and where can I be a key piece to help a team win, whether it’s here or another team?" Gasol said, per Adande. "I don’t know exactly what’s going to be the structure or the roster [with the Lakers], so there’s going to be a lot of question marks here."
Too many question marks.
Maybe he comes back and stays healthy. Maybe he remains productive. Maybe he even helps a healthy Bryant and Nash lead the Lakers back to the playoffs.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
That's a lot of maybes.
Too many maybes.
Not enough certainty.
Not enough winning.
For everyone involved, it's best to move on. For the same reason the Lakers never brought back Phil Jackson, they must now let Gasol go. He is a remnant of their past, a vestige of a team that no longer exists.
Gasol is looking for something—money and purpose—the Lakers cannot provide. And he is slinging something the Lakers no longer need.
Keeping this band together only prolongs the disappointment and failure both Gasol and the Lakers are trying to escape.
Salary information via ShamSports.
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