Best Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Pau Gasol During 2014 Offseason
During his six seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Pau Gasol racked up three All-Star appearances and a pair of championships, forever cementing his status as one of the key cornerstones of the Kobe Bryant era.
Sadly, the power forward’s L.A. tenure may be coming to an end.
With the future of the Lakers in flux, Gasol—who turns 34 on July 6—would be wise to survey the league landscape, to pinpoint the teams that give him the best chance of securing a third ring and further enhancing his already sterling NBA legacy.
Taking both financial flexibility and championship potential into account, we’ve compiled the eight best landing spots for the versatile power forward.
Anthony may be garnering a lion’s share of the headlines, but where the savvy Spaniard ends up could yield an equally compelling shakeup.
San Antonio Spurs
On paper, the fit that exists between Gasol and the defending champion San Antonio Spurs is nothing if not compelling. Indeed, Pau’s game is tailor-made for Gregg Popovich’s pass-happy, space-centric system.
With just $53 million in committed salaries heading into the offseason, San Antonio has some change to spare. Still, for Gasol to don the silver and black, he'd most likely have to take a pay cut.
Not an extreme one, mind you. Even if San Antonio offered Gasol something along the lines of three years, $45 million, they would still be well below luxury tax territory. Similarly, if Gasol were to accept something closer to three years, $30 million, the Spurs would have more than enough room to touch up the roster’s fringes.
The potential frontcourt logjam between Gasol, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter could give both parties pause, but if these Spurs have taught us anything these past 15 years, it’s that unselfishness and adaptability are part of the franchise’s DNA.
And while Gasol would indeed make for an intriguing fit alongside Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, BlogABull’s Jay Patt points out that pulling off such a coup would likely entail some creative accounting:
Another option is attempting to engage the Lakers in sign-and-trade discussions involving Carlos Boozer. I'm not sure how receptive the Lakers would be to those talks, but they do have a ton of cap space and acquiring Boozer wouldn't ruin their 2015 plan.
Doing a sign-and-trade involving Taj Gibson could be another option, as it would give the Lakers a young, valuable asset on an affordable contract. However, that would entail Gasol agreeing to an even smaller deal.
The Bulls also have the option of amnestying Boozer, thereby freeing up the requisite room, although his deal may be worth more as an expiring contract, at this point.
Gasol would certainly be an all-around upgrade over Boozer or Gibson. It’s getting the Lakers to go along that could prove the more difficult part.
If there’s one area where the Suns could use help, it’s in the frontcourt, where last year, Phoenix leaned on the likes of Miles Plumlee, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Channing Frye to be its big-body bulwarks.
It should be noticed the two have been mentioned in tandem: Back in February, ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Suns were interested in executing a trade for Gasol.
Teamed with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe (assuming whatever offer sheet he receives is matched), Gerald Green and the rest of Phoenix’s young core—not to mention the three first-round draft picks coming down the pike—Gasol would give the Suns instant Western Conference credibility.
As one of many teams purportedly interested (per Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears) in Kevin Love, Phoenix is clearly in the market for a game-changing forward. Gasol may not boast Love’s talent or upside, but as a proven presence on a cheaper deal, he may be the ideal consolation prize.
Getting James, Wade, Bosh, Haslem and Andersen to take pay cuts significant enough to open a significant slot for Anthony undoubtedly will be complex. It would require reductions that could stretch into the tens of millions over the next few seasons. Sources say the Heat's plan is to sell the players they wish to keep on the long-term benefits of making such a sacrifice.
If the Heat do indeed keep LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the fold, but somehow strike out on the Melo sweepsteaks, Gasol would be a compelling secondary option.
Assuming Gasol would be willing to sign for less, that would broaden—albeit slightly—Miami’s options for rounding out the roster.
Gasol would be an ideal fit: someone with the kind of steady paint presence to keep the defense honest and the vision necessary to spot open shooters along the perimeter.
If the Heat learned one lesson in its five-game finals drubbing at the hands of the Spurs, it’s that there’s no such things as too many good passers. Adding Gasol would prove they’ve taken it to heart.
It’s assumed that Mark Cuban will be pursuing the two as potential compliments to Dirk Nowitzki, although with the Dallas cornerstone’s contract set to expire, that’s not necessarily a guarantee.
Still, the Mavericks stand to have only $27 million committed this summer, giving them enough room to add two max or near-max level players (Nowitzki included) should Cuban decide to go that route.
The Mavs owner has seldom been shy about dipping into tax territory, a point he’ll no doubt be emphasizing during the aforementioned meetings. Whether he can prove to Gasol (and Anthony) that Dallas has a plan in place to fill out the roster, however, remains to be see seen.
New York Knicks
You knew we were getting to this one sooner or later.
As things stand, the New York Knicks lack the requisite cap room to pay Gasol his due. But with former coach Phil Jackson at the helm, Gasol may be willing to consider a sign-and-trade, perhaps involving the expiring deal of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler or Andrea Bargnani.
In fact, the Knicks, could structure a deal whereby his pay is back-loaded in later years, keeping them flexible in the short term while using Gasol as a draw—albeit an aging, ancillary one—for future free agents in 2015, when New York’s books will be virtually cleared.
In hiring Derek Fisher to be the franchise’s next head coach, Jackson’s plan to transform the Knicks into a triangle-centric team is well under way. Adding Gasol will only help Jackson legitimize the strategic transition to the rest of the roster.
As things stand, Pau joining brother Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies may be the longest shot we’ve discussed yet. The reason: ESPN’s March Stein is reporting the Grizzlies and Zach Randolph are discussing an extension that would keep the stalwart forward in Memphis.
If the deal should fall through, however, what better way for Gasol to bookend his career than by joining his brother on Beale Street?
Memphis could also work out a sign-and-trade with the Lakers, giving L.A. a slightly younger power forward capable of being a short-term cornerstone. If Gasol were to take a discount to return to his former team, Memphis would be in a better position to reinforce what has been a somewhat shaky depth chart in recent years.
Call it a fairy tale if you will; we’ve certainly seen weirder.
Los Angeles Lakers
Home is where the heart is, and in the NBA, the attendant road is paved with gold.
When Gasol enters the Hall of Fame, it will be as a Laker. Two titles and a trio of All-Star appearances prove as much.
And while his longtime employers have a lot of uncertainty moving forward, L.A. has proven time and again in its storied history that quick turnarounds are a big part of its business.
In spite of all the uncertainty, the Lakers remain a desirable free-agent destination—always have been, always will be. So long as Kobe Bryant is around, anyway.
If the Bryant and Gasol-led Lakers can suffer through one more forgettable season, they have as much chance as anyone of reaping the free-agent rewards next summer.
Re-signing for the Lakers is a possibility, but I’m not sure whether to say it’s a remote one. If there’s anything or anyone who could make me stay it’s Kobe Bryant. I’d stay for him, but there’d have to be significant changes. I’ve said it many times: I want to be in a team that has a solid chance to win another tournament and where I can be an important factor in the game.
Gasol is right to survey the NBA landscape, to gauge which team stands the best chance of helping brighten his legacy.
Which is why, when all’s said and done, the simplest solution—staying put and hoping history and legacy are quick to aid—may be the best.