"I spoke with Kobe before the end of the season and he told me he wanted me to stay," Gasol told Marca.com, via the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. “We have a great mutual respect and a great friendship.”
Is Bryant's wish Gasol's to command?
The chances of Gasol staying in Los Angeles seemed slim after this season. He wants to win and the Lakers are kind of, sort of, rebuilding. Gasol also expressed concern for his role within Mike D'Antoni's system.
Make that one obstacle cleared.
Pau Gasol on Kobe Bryant: "I know that he is going to be one of the main reasons why I would come back to the team."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) April 17, 2014
D'Antoni's resignation makes the Lakers more Gasol-friendly. The idea of him returning under D'Antoni was ludicrous. He was marginalized on offense, and asked to play well outside his comfort zone.
But while the Lakers are heading in a different coaching direction, there are still a number of things at play.
For one, there's the coaching search. Plenty of names have been tossed around, but until a hire is made, there's no guarantee Gasol will be more valued by the new head coach.
There's also the issue of money. Gasol earned nearly $19.3 million this year, per ShamSports.com. He must accept a substantial pay cut if he's to return. As Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster notes, the Lakers also need to renounce his rights if they're to truly enjoy the extent of their projected cap space:
Gasol will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, just like 10 of his other teammates will. While it's unclear what the plans of newly extended general manager Mitch Kupchak are, the Lakers will almost certainly have to renounce all rights to Gasol in order to sign any substantial free agent this offseason, as Gasol's cap hold would absorb nearly all the available cap space.
Even if Gasol takes less money, the possibility remains that Bryant is recruiting the 7-foot Spaniard against Los Angeles' wishes. Though the Lakers are armed with enough cap space to make a splash this summer, the superstar free-agency pool may dry up quickly, which makes it worthwhile to wait until summer 2015, when additional studs reach the open market.
Will Pau Gasol still be on the Lakers next season?
Pushing 34, it's unlikely Gasol is willing to sign a one-year deal. This is his last opportunity to cash in on his remaining value.
Seeking out a multiyear pact makes more sense for him. But not the Lakers. They need to preserve their financial flexibility for as long as possible. The days of Bryant and Gasol leading the Lakers toward contention are over. This team has a future to think about.
As does Gasol.
“I will give priority to a team that can win games and, let’s hope, challenge for the title,” Gasol said, via Medina.
At this moment, no matter how hard Bryant tries, no matter how many avenues of flattery he exhausts, the Lakers just aren't that team.