Kobe Bryant Tells Pau Gasol He Wants Him to Return to Los Angeles Lakers

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, and center Paul Gasol, right, watch from the bench in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. Oklahoma City won 122-97. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Kobe Bryant wants Pau Gasol to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I spoke with Kobe before the end of the season and he told me he wanted me to stay," Gasol told Marca.com, via the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. “We have a great mutual respect and a great friendship.”

Is Bryant's wish Gasol's to command? 

Not exactly.

The chances of Gasol staying in Los Angeles seemed slim after this season. He wants to win and the Lakers are kind of, sort of, rebuilding. Gasol also expressed concern for his role within Mike D'Antoni's system. 

"I’ve never concealed the fact that D’Antoni’s style doesn’t suit my game," he said on his personal blog, per Lakers Nation. "Everybody knows this."

Make that one obstacle cleared.

D'Antoni's resignation makes the Lakers more Gasol-friendly. The idea of him returning under D'Antoni was ludicrous. He was marginalized on offense, and asked to play well outside his comfort zone.

But while the Lakers are heading in a different coaching direction, there are still a number of things at play. 

For one, there's the coaching search. Plenty of names have been tossed around, but until a hire is made, there's no guarantee Gasol will be more valued by the new head coach.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 16:  Pau Gasol #16 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 16, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
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There's also the issue of money. Gasol earned nearly $19.3 million this year, per ShamSports.com. He must accept a substantial pay cut if he's to return. As Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster notes, the Lakers also need to renounce his rights if they're to truly enjoy the extent of their projected cap space:

Gasol will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, just like 10 of his other teammates will. While it's unclear what the plans of newly extended general manager Mitch Kupchak are, the Lakers will almost certainly have to renounce all rights to Gasol in order to sign any substantial free agent this offseason, as Gasol's cap hold would absorb nearly all the available cap space.

Even if Gasol takes less money, the possibility remains that Bryant is recruiting the 7-foot Spaniard against Los Angeles' wishes. Though the Lakers are armed with enough cap space to make a splash this summer, the superstar free-agency pool may dry up quickly, which makes it worthwhile to wait until summer 2015, when additional studs reach the open market.

Pushing 34, it's unlikely Gasol is willing to sign a one-year deal. This is his last opportunity to cash in on his remaining value.

Seeking out a multiyear pact makes more sense for him. But not the Lakers. They need to preserve their financial flexibility for as long as possible. The days of Bryant and Gasol leading the Lakers toward contention are over. This team has a future to think about. 

As does Gasol.

“I will give priority to a team that can win games and, let’s hope, challenge for the title,” Gasol said, via Medina.

At this moment, no matter how hard Bryant tries, no matter how many avenues of flattery he exhausts, the Lakers just aren't that team.


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