For a franchise that has been able to sell itself with ease for decades, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding life in the modern world difficult to navigate. They have taken meetings with top free agents and made their best sales pitches, but so far no one has taken the bait.
On top of that, the Lakers are struggling to keep their own players. Pau Gasol, who was a staple of Los Angeles trade rumors for two years, doesn't know what he's going to do but has kept every option open.
The latest developments for Gasol, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, have him entertaining the Oklahoma City Thunder:
In a surprising twist, OKC has come on strong with Pau Gasol, and described as a "frontrunner" for the Spaniard.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 2, 2014
While the idea of a front-runner in free agency is laughable—nothing is certain until an agreement has been reached and/or a contract gets signed—Gasol's motives show that the Lakers aren't putting their best foot forward.
The irony of the situation is Gasol expressed an interest in returning to the Lakers in December, telling Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News that finishing his career with the team was appealing under the right circumstances:
We’ll see if there’s interest or not. Then we’ll go from there. ...
You have to explore your options, but I would like to continue to play for the Lakers and maybe finish my career here. But you have to see the cards on the table.
No one will deny that Gasol is still a very good player. He averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last year, but age and health are working against him. The two-time NBA champion turned 34 today and has missed 55 games over the last two years.
Unless Gasol decides to take a huge pay cut, which he told Medina wasn't really something on his mind, the Lakers would be wise to look at other avenues for help at the center/power forward positions.
The Lakers are stuck in limbo right now. They are paying Kobe Bryant $48 million over the next two years, implying that they believe contending for a title is possible. Drafting Julius Randle looks like a way to bridge the gap between their present with Bryant and the future without the franchise player.
What's the best destination for Pau Gasol?
Gasol represents the past that Los Angeles needs to stop chasing. That era ended with the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss. It is time for the franchise to form a new identity with Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss running the franchise.
Los Angeles is still one of the best basketball markets in the country; the Lakers are still one of the elite franchises in all of pro sports; and money will always talk, especially when there is more than $28 million to spend, according to Spotrac.com.
It doesn't sound like Carmelo Anthony, one of L.A.'s top targets this offseason, will be making the journey west, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported that the 30-year-old is expected to accept the Knicks' max-contract offer.
However, that doesn't mean all hope is lost. Free agency is in a state of flux right now until LeBron James makes his decision. After that, the Lakers will know how the market's set for everyone else and will be able to act accordingly.
The future, while still cloudy, is getting brighter in Los Angeles. The Lakers need to keep all of their options open before the big dominoes drop.
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