Pau Gasol Should Do the Unthinkable and Join the San Antonio Spurs

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 19: Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs battles for position against Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 19, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Pau Gasol is a wanted man.

In a recent chat, Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy included the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and San Antonio as teams that were in the mix for the former All-Star's services.

The Lakers can offer him the most money. OKC can offer plenty of minutes at the center spot along with the chance to contend immediately. Chicago can essentially replace Carlos Boozer with Gasol, as long as the former is amnestied this summer and the team can create the cap space to land Gasol.

And while the Knicks don't have much in the way of money to offer, they do have Phil Jackson running things, as well as a star cornerstone in Carmelo Anthony, who plans to announce re-signing with the Knicks on Thursday, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

Up against this kind of competition, it's no surprise onlookers see the San Antonio Spurs as a long-shot option.

The periphery—that's never good.

But San Antonio probably wouldn't have it any other way.

Such are free-agent pursuits for this organization, one that does most of its building from the inside out. The Spurs rarely make splashy free-agent acquisitions for a number of reasons.

General manager R.C. Buford is more likely to spend cap space by retaining the team's own free agents, just as the Spurs did this summer by reaching agreements with point guard Patty Mills and versatile big man Boris Diaw.

Moreover, it's not the Spurs' style to promise minutes or bend over backward for prospective talent. Their system has long been in place, and their aim is fairly one-dimensional. This franchise is all about winning. It couldn't care less about impressing outsiders with guarantees and tours of the Alamo.

That sits well with some, but it's a hardly a slam-dunk strategy when dealing with guys who want their egos stroked.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

It's still too soon to say where Gasol fits in that equation. All that we think we know is that the Spurs are still trying—in their own modest way.

Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that "With Diaw's return set, the Spurs will continue their pursuit of free agent Pau Gasol with an offer of their mid-level exception, league sources told Yahoo Sports."

There are, after all, exceptions to the Spurs' general trend of avoiding big-name free agents—lest we forget that San Antonio added the likes of Michael Finley and Antonio McDyess as experienced role players once they—like Gasol—were past their primes.

The trick in this instance will be extending a deal that's to Gasol's liking.

So the first hurdle for San Antonio is getting the money right.

Wojnarowski separately reports that "Gasol, 33, has been searching for a contract in the $10 million annual range, but hasn't ruled out the possibility of taking a deal in the mid-level exception range of $5.3 million annually, sources said."

It's good news for San Antonio that the mid-level exception dollars haven't been ruled out, but that's still a far cry from Gasol's preferred payday. LA has a clear advantage when it comes to cap space, holding enough room to give him something in that $10 million-per-year range.

The second hurdle for San Antonio is familiarity.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 11:   Head coach Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers laugh before the game with the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center on January 11, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 112-57.  NOTE TO USER:
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

That's something Gasol would have in Los Angeles and New York. He's played with the Lakers for six-and-a-half seasons. And he spent much of that time under Phil Jackson, New York's new president of basketball operations. That's not the only perk to playing in New York.

Wojnarowski adds:

The Knicks have a core of leadership, including president Phil Jackson, coach Derek Fisher and point guard Jose Calderon, who have strong history and relationships with Gasol, and those factors would have to play a part in overcoming the fact the Knicks can pay Gasol only the taxpayer's exception starting at $3.28 million annually.

You can see why the Spurs have been labeled as being on the "periphery" of this collective pursuit. As suitors go, they lack some key ingredients.

All the same, unthinkable though it may be, there are some compelling reasons for Gasol to consider the Spurs.

The first is that minor detail about them being the reigning NBA champions. Though the Thunder can certainly argue that they came close, only San Antonio can lay claim to having beaten both the Thunder and the Heat—and in convincing fashion, no less.

If Gasol wants to join a franchise with an established winning formula, this should be a relatively straightforward decision.

The Knicks and Lakers have upside in the not-too-distant future. The Bulls are one of two or three teams in the East with a chance to do something special. The Thunder are a legitimate contender.

But the Spurs are the only suitor that won a title last season. That should count for something.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 18:  Tim Duncan, Patty Mills, and Aron Baynes of the San Antonio Spurs pose for photos during The San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship Celebration Parade on June 18, 2014 on the San Antonio River in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: U
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

The other perk is that San Antonio is as international as it gets, a United Nations of basketball supremacy. That might sound like a weak selling point, but consider one of Gasol's hang-ups concerning a venture with the Thunder.'s Dave McMenamin reports that "During Gasol's meeting with [Thunder head coach Scott] Brooks, according to a league source, the 13-year veteran peppered Brooks with questions about the quality of life in Oklahoma City and wondered aloud about leaving a culturally diverse city like Los Angeles for middle America."

Technically, Texas is every bit as much of a flyover state as Oklahoma, but San Antonio is pretty diverse in its own right. Though it can't compete with Los Angeles or New York when it comes to big-city grandeur, it has a prominent Latino population and cultural inheritance. And more to the point, the Spurs are an eclectic mix of European, Latin American and South Pacific talent.

If it's cultural diversity that Gasol wants, South Texas may be a surprisingly ideal locale.

Finally—and perhaps most importantly—there's on-court fit to consider.

The Spurs love to move the ball, and that plays right into Gasol's wheelhouse. He's an unselfish passer and consummate team player. His ability to engage in high-low play with Tim Duncan would add yet another potent dimension to San Antonio's motion offense. That's part of the reason Diaw became so valuable to this operation. Versatile bigs are key to schemes in which the ball can't stick.

Gasol's pick-and-pop game would also look pretty good with skilled initiators like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili running the play.

Gasol has plenty of options that he's undoubtedly exploring in depth. At the moment, it's tempting to suggest there's no wrong answer for the prized free agent. His potential destinations all have something unique to offer.

It might just be that the San Antonio Spurs quietly offer more than all the rest.