Pau Gasol Opts Out of Bulls Contract: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2016

Mar 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol (16) reacts after a play during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol reportedly informed the franchise Monday that he will decline the player option in his contract for the 2016-17 season and enter free agency.  

Marc Stein of ESPN.com first reported the news and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune confirmed it.

Gasol has been one of the NBA's most reliable frontcourt players for more than a decade, spending time with the Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers. He's coming off another rock-solid campaign in 2015-16, having averaged 16.5 points and 11.0 rebounds across 72 games with Chicago.

The 35-year-old Spanish big man battled a knee injury during the stretch run of the regular season. In late March, he told Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago that the heavy workload while Chicago fought for a postseason berth likely played a role in his health issues.

"Couldn't bend my knee to a certain degree. Then it pinched," Gasol said. "That was a big part of it. Now the pounding of play with the fluid and the games and the schedule and the minutes, I don't know. A little bit of everything I guess."

He toughed it out for the final few weeks of the regular season until the Bulls were eliminated from playoff contention. After their disappointing 42-40 campaign, Gasol then began to ponder his future. He either had to pick up his player option for a shade under $7.8 million, according to Spotrac, or head back into the free-agent frenzy after two productive years with the Bulls.

Ultimately, Gasol decided to test his value on the open market, which came as little surprise. At age 35, this could be his last chance to cash in on a lucrative multiyear deal. It also helps that the salary cap is projected to rise to $94 million next season, per Shams Charania of The Vertical, a considerable increase from the $70 million cap in 2015-16.

The San Antonio Spurs appear to be the early favorite to sign Gasol if future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan decides to retire. HoopsHype passed along comments Gasol made in Spanish outlet Marca about the possibility in late April:

There's talk about passing of the torch with San Antonio and a hypothetical passing of the torch with Duncan. For starters, nobody knows if Tim is retiring and he's somebody whom I have maximum respect for. In closing, I have to admit the Spurs would be an interesting option for me. I recognize I'm a fan of the way the franchise has done things over the years and the way they play basketball on the court.

Gasol is a prototypical Spurs player. He'd bring a team-first approach and a versatile offensive game while also serving as an impact rim protector. He isn't as good as he was during his prime, but he's still a valuable contributor capable of replacing Duncan should he decide to walk away.

If San Antonio doesn't end up in the race, Gasol should still have a multitude of options to choose from, but it could take a while for a favorite to emerge.

 

Related

    D'Angelo Russell (Knee) Cleared to Return

    NBA logo
    NBA

    D'Angelo Russell (Knee) Cleared to Return

    Adam Wells
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Hornets Open to Trading Kemba

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Hornets Open to Trading Kemba

    Adam Wells
    via Bleacher Report

    B/R's Official Dunk Contest Wish List

    NBA logo
    NBA

    B/R's Official Dunk Contest Wish List

    Dan Favale
    via Bleacher Report

    Why the NBA Suddenly Has No Chill

    Chicago Bulls logo
    Chicago Bulls

    Why the NBA Suddenly Has No Chill

    Ken Berger
    via Bleacher Report