Just a couple weeks ago, Pau Gasol seemed to be heading straight out the Los Angeles Lakers’ door as a free agent. He had clashed repeatedly with coach Mike D’Antoni, he had been on the trading block way too many times and he was too old and expensive for a forward-thinking rebuild.
Things have changed a bit since then. D’Antoni—destroyer of traditional low-post beliefs—has moved on his merry way.
And so the pendulum swings back toward the Lakers, with Gasol recently saying in an interview with the Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca: “What is certain is that we are without a coach and I say 'we' because I'm still thinking of myself as a Lakers player.”
Gasol also acknowledged the wishes of another Lakers player—one Kobe Bryant: “I spoke with Kobe before the end of the season and he told me he wanted me to stay. We have a great mutual respect and a great friendship.”
Done deal, right?
Probably not. Pendulums don't stay in one position for long—they swing back and forth, back and forth.
Gasol has not been shy with his words lately. It’s as if a happy, thoughtful stream of consciousness has been set free—like a swarm of joyful butterflies.
No longer troubled by vertigo or a small-ball coach, Gasol is back in his native Spain, living la vida and looking forward to World Cup basketball this summer with the Spanish national team.
There’s something special about meeting up with your family, with your friends, getting back into your old routines and talking to journalists that you knew from before, people you feel very close to and you can finally be together with.
I feel great. My vertigo problems are finally over. I’m not physically frustrated or mentally tired. I can’t remember the last vacation when I was feeling this good. I’m fresh, wanting to do a lot of things.
A day after the previously mentioned Marca interview, Gasol was at it again—this time doing an online video interview for Marca.com (translation James Barragan for the Los Angeles Times), expressing hope that the Lakers will make an offer “that is good enough for me to consider.”
In regards to San Antonio, Gasol said:
The Spurs players maybe don’t rack up statistics, but the team and the coach they have, to me, seems like a very good option. In the end, I’m more interested in a team than an individual player and how I would adjust and be worked into a system.
Soooo…you’ve got the Lakers on one hand with no coach, coming off a 55-loss season, and the Spurs and Coach Pop, now heading into the Western Conference Finals.
So how is it again that the pendulum is swinging back to a Los Angeles state of mind?
For one, Gasol has always been a very loyal guy, and Bryant wants him back. Plus, there was the reply by Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak in his 2014 exit interview, when asked if re-signing Gasol was a priority (as transcribed by Trevor Wong for Lakers.com):
Absolutely he’s a priority. If you look at the free agent board or the guys that may be a free agent, there’s probably not a player as good as Pau on the board. He’s waited a bunch of years to become a free agent. He’s going to get phone calls, so we’ll do our best to stay on top of it. I think Pau has a good relationship with this organization and I know he loves this city. We’ll have to see what the market dictates.
"What the market dictates" means the issue of money, of course.
Gasol would have to take a major cut from this year’s $19.3 million salary in order for the Lakers to have even the slimmest chance of pursuing other meaningful players this summer—a fact further complicated by the number of roster vacancies that have to be filled.
So how much of a cut would be acceptable to Gasol? He won’t command a max contract, but he won’t come cheap. And you also have to weigh money against the lure of playing for a top team.
For the first time in his long NBA career, Gasol is a free agent. And that freedom will bring more choices than the Lakers have in front of them this summer, if truth be told. The versatile big man wants to join a championship contender, and it's hard to see the Purple and Gold returning quickly to that elite status.
For now, Gasol is happily riding the pendulum, swinging back and forth between a list of teams of his own making.
But if he can’t make up his mind, if he feels drawn back to something familiar, if he’s swayed by loyalties and a friendship to Bryant, that’s okay too.
Come closer, happy butterfly, just a little bit closer. You’re almost home now.