Winner of two championship rings with the Lakers, Gasol is set to walk out the door and become one of the league’s top free agents.
Sure, his sunset years are coming into sight. And for all his talent and high IQ, the Spaniard is not a guy the Lakers can build around for the long term.
He’s also not ready for a wheelchair shove into retirement. Gasol averaged 17.4 points, 9.7 boards, 3.4 assists and 1.5 blocks this season, all while playing the fewest minutes of his career. Plus he did it under a coach named Mike D’Antoni, who had no love for his All-Star’s preferred method of fundamental basketball.
The essential conflict of philosophies resulted in some interesting exchanges, including one reported by Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times in which Gasol questioned how he was being used:
The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness. When I'm not getting the ball where I want to, where I'm most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity.
D’Antoni responded back in kind, “I can’t lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up.”
By the end of the season, the numbers told other stories as well, including the worst loss record in Lakers history at 27-55.
And the exit of the small-ball coach.
Past differences and disappointments aside, there will be plenty of parties interested in Gasol’s low-post game during the summer’s free-agency feeding frenzy, which officially kicks off July 1.
During a video interview with Spanish sports media site Marca.com (translation by James Barragan for the Los Angeles Times), the 13-year veteran listed three contenders that interest him—the Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
Regarding the Spurs, who have since won their fifth NBA title, 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.
Another organization that could probably use a man of Gasol’s talents is the New York Knicks—there’s a little history there with former teammate Derek Fisher, who’s now the head coach, and former coach Phil Jackson, who’s now team president and head of basketball operations.
But what about the city where Gasol had his greatest successes, what about playing alongside Kobe Bryant, who is heading into what essentially amounts to a two-year farewell tour?
How about getting the band together one more time and making a little noise before it’s all over?
And hire a coach who will play to their strengths—like Lionel Hollins. Because if Hollins can develop Marc Gasol into such an effective player, think of what he could accomplish with big brother Pau and uber-legend Bryant.
They’ll need to be surrounded by young, willing legs, of course. But isn’t that already part of the rebuild plan?
Gasol will be one of a small pool of elite players available this summer. And the plain truth is that there aren’t enough playoff-experienced frontcourt players to go around. If the Lakers have any desire to win now rather than later, they should make a push to bring him back.
If they don’t, there will be plenty of contending teams ready to snap him up.