Whatever they wish to do.
The 33-year-old Gasol will hit unrestricted free agency in July, where any number of NBA teams looking to bolster their depth up front will be waiting. He himself even has a list of clubs he will consider.
In an interview with http://t.co/K3B8ybZMdR, Pau Gasol mentioned the Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Spurs as options he'll consider this summer.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 9, 2014
Among those teams will be the Lakers, the organization with which he's spent six-plus seasons. Though he's found himself at the center of trade rumors for the last few years, his return remains possible.
It's just not smart, because it doesn't brighten the Lakers' immediate future nearly as much as severing ties would.
All About Them Dollars
Keeping Gasol is going to cost money.
Lots of money.
"Money won't be the main priority," Gasol said of his next contract, via Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix. "Length and money are factors, but we'll see. Until I know all the options, I won't be able to measure them."
Would Gasol be wiling to offer the Lakers a hometown discount? Let's say yes, because optimism is fun.
Will that matter? Absolutely not.
Retaining Gasol will significantly eat into the Lakers' long-awaited cap space. He's due to make far less than the $19.3 million he earned this season, but even half that is too much to stomach.
The team already has $30-plus million invested in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash next year. Add roughly $10 million for Gasol and the Lakers are left creeping above $40 million in salary commitments to three players, each of whom are 33 or older.
That leaves them with little to spend in free agency, prohibiting them from landing a star. Yet even if they could afford a star, good luck convincing anyone to join a trio that combined to make 76 total appearances last season.
Perspective on the matter changes if Gasol is open to signing a one-year pact. Most stars slated for free agency this summer—LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, etc.—are unlikely to change locations anyway. Fielding a faction built around Bryant, Nash and Gasol for one more season will do little harm.
But Gasol isn't going to sign a one-year deal. This is his last chance to capitalize on his market value long term. There's no sense in him signing at a reduced rate in Los Angeles for one season when he could snag two, three or—less likely—four somewhere else.
This is where things get dicey.
Los Angeles, as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding has effectively drilled into our heads, has big plans for summer 2015. Bryant is the only guaranteed contract on its ledger after this season, permitting the team to make free-agency runs at Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and possibly even James, among so many others.
Re-signing Gasol doesn't ruin their aspirations entirely, but it makes life far more difficult.
Bryant is already on the books for $25 million in 2015-16. Gasol could push that number past $35 million, which means more than half of the Lakers' cap space would be devoted to a pair of aging stars long past their primes.
Staging a multi-star free-agency coup would be out of the question. After factoring in minimum cap holds, the Lakers' 2014 first-round pick and any contracts they offer between now and then, they'll be lucky to afford one max superstar, let alone two.
Successfully signing two star free agents, as always, remains a long shot. But ask yourself this: Is it a long shot worth abandoning for a senescent big man who has missed at least 22 games in each of the last two seasons?
The Lakers need someone to carry them. Gasol needs to be carried.
Pushing 34, Gasol is no longer a building block. Bryant wants him to return, but Gasol doesn't bring him any closer to that sixth championship ring. This isn't 2010 anymore.
Likewise, the Lakers don't bring Gasol closer to his third championship, and that, above all else, is what he cares about.
"I want to be in a team that is going to be built to win a championship," he said, per Mannix. "That's my top priority."
If Gasol wants to win sometime soon, the Lakers aren't for him. They're a team in transition, hoping to accelerate their rebuild through free agency this summer and next. He doesn't fit into that plan.
All the Lakers and Gasol accomplish by remaining attached to one another is extending their shortcomings. A core of Bryant and Gasol won't lead the Lakers to another championship. The pair might not even lead them back to the playoffs. Everything would have to go right for a team assembled around them to succeed.
Returning to the playoffs, to contention, is the primary goal for either party. Free from the Lakers, Gasol is able to sync up with an established contender, one that only needs him in a supporting capacity. Without Gasol, the Lakers are able invest money elsewhere, signing younger, healthier free agents.
More importantly, it allows Los Angeles to put some much-needed distance between itself and a past that has run its course and overstayed its welcome.
The Importance of Moving On
Reality has forced the Lakers' hand.
Once Bryant went down again this season, everything changed. The idea that these two could create magic together, that they could make one last run together, died.
Had things been different, had they gone differently, Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster acknowledges that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't have to be like this:
This might also be a completely different story if Bryant were healthy, as the Lakers would never have finished with a record like this or have had this roster. The plan to build for the future could have been more easily delayed, and perhaps Gasol would have been willing to lower his demands and take a contending Los Angeles discount like so many players in the past have.
Harping on what's already done gets the Lakers nowhere, though.
Stars aren't going to flock to Los Angeles to play alongside Bryant and Gasol. Pay cuts won't be taken to join forces with two fading luminaries. Bryant's contract and murky health bill makes reeling in marquee talent difficult enough. Combining his ongoing decline with Gasol's renders it near impossible.
But the Lakers have an out. A quick, clean, out.
Allowing Gasol to walk in free agency opens up additional possibilities. A spending spree in 2015 becomes more promising, the financial maneuvering becomes easier.
Moving on becomes a genuine option.
Right now, the Lakers are stuck. Gasol is stuck. Like I've written previously—and will undoubtedly write again—they've yet to escape this cycle of trying to make the past a part of the future:
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.
What the Lakers need is flexibility, the financial means to salvage what's left of Bryant's career and set themselves up for the future.
What they need is a new beginning, not the same old, outdated ending.
Should the Lakers bring Pau Gasol back next season?
One decision ensures they're headed in the right direction, giving them more money and a better chance at expediting their reclamation project. One decision can symbolize their willingness to finally and mercifully accept that times have changed.
One loss paves the way for a much greater gain.
"There’s great interest in re-signing Pau,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina in April. “I don’t know why there would not be interest."
Probably because interest in Gasol comes at the expense of a bigger, better and brighter tomorrow.
*Salary information via ShamSports.