Pau Gasol and San Antonio Spurs Are Free-Agency Match Made in Heaven

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor IMay 12, 2014

Mar 14, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (left) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After a few seasons of being misused by the two Mikes (Brown and D'Antoni) that have roamed the sidelines for the Los Angeles Lakers, free-agent big man Pau Gasol deserves something a little better.

He deserves a decent payday, of course, and another chance at a ring. But most importantly, Gasol deserves a coach and team that will utilize his skills and put him in the right positions to succeed.

There will be many suitors for Gasol this offseason and many places he can fit in, but perhaps no team can offer a better home than the San Antonio Spurs.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers greets teammate Pau Gasol #16 on the bench as their team plays against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Staples
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It may be hard for Gasol to see that right now, as he certainly comes off as a loyal individual. His relationship with the Lakers and Kobe Bryant is undeniable even after the problems of the last few seasons.

Here's what Gasol wrote on his own blog, as translated by Inside the Lakers:

Re-signing for the Lakers is a possibility, but I’m not sure whether to say it’s a remote one. If there’s anything or anyone who could make me stay it’s Kobe Bryant. I’d stay for him, but there’d have to be significant changes.

I’ve never concealed the fact that D’Antoni’s style doesn’t suit my game. Everybody knows this. I don’t know if my decision will be swayed by whether Mike stays or leaves. Obviously, the coach is a very important factor for any team.

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While D'Antoni no longer being in Los Angeles could help Gasol stay, there are still plenty of questions about what he's coming back to.

The only key pieces still on salary for next year (Bryant and Steve Nash) haven't been able to get on the floor, and it's become increasingly difficult to picture the Lakers in the title hunt with such an incomplete roster.

As a free agent, Gasol should feel free to look around and see which team can accommodate his needs the best.

In an interview with http://t.co/K3B8ybZMdR, Pau Gasol mentioned the Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Spurs as options he'll consider this summer.

— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 9, 2014

If Gasol eventually comes to the conclusion that San Antonio makes the most sense, the logic will be plain to see.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 19: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on March 19, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Noah Graham/Getty Images

As we've seen this postseason, the Spurs are still very much a title contender, if not a favorite to emerge from a tough Western Conference.

Despite the age of Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, the Spurs have a young supporting cast and a defined system that has stood the test of time. No organization is held in higher esteem around the league.

Here's Bleacher Report Ben Leibowitz with more:

The Spurs should be considered the most appealing option from a winning standpoint. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and head coach Gregg Popovich are well on their way to another NBA Finals appearance in 2014. Adding Gasol to that aging core would likely help boost their title hopes a year from now. They’re already championship contenders without his skill set being involved.

If coaching matters as much as Gasol says, there's no one better than Gregg Popovich. While a coach like Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls is certainly great, he tends to ride his players into the ground while failing to see the bigger picture.

That's not a problem with Popovich. No one has managed veteran players better than he has over the years, as he's been willing to grant plenty of rest days and pull guys from games nice and early.

As a result, the Spurs always march into the offseason fresh and with a battle-tested bench that's ready to go at a moment's notice.

It's a marathon and not a sprint, and given Gasol's injury troubles over the last few years, he needs a coach that understands that and is comfortable enough in taking on a few losses for the sake of preserving his older players.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs greets Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers following Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at Staples Center during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2013 in L
Noah Graham/Getty Images

It goes deeper than that, though.

San Antonio's style of play is a perfect fit for Gasol, who is one of the best passing big men in league history. The Spurs love to position their bigs (Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw) at the high post and allow them to make plays with their court vision.

Surrounded by shooters and selfless players, Gasol's skills wouldn't go to waste like they would in a few other stagnant offenses that depend mostly on isolation basketball.

Gasol is still great, but he's no longer a player you dump the ball into on the block 20 times a game. He needs to be a cog in the machine and get touches as part of a system, and San Antonio offers that.

It sounds as though Gasol recognizes the benefits of playing for a team like the Spurs. Here's what he recently said in an interview with Marca.com (h/t James Barragan of the Los Angeles Times):

“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,” Gasol said. “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.”

Out of all the players who haven't played for the Spurs, Gasol probably seems the Spurs-iest of them all. He's a high-character, highly skilled player that understands team basketball and has been willing over the years to adapt his role based on the talent around him.

He has the basketball IQ to make just about any situation work, but he'll thrive alongside other smart players.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs hug before a game on November 1, 2013 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

But how probable is it for Gasol to join the Spurs this offseason? Here's Dan McCarney of Spurs Nation taking a look at the nuts and bolts:

The NBA salary cap is projected to rise by nearly $5 million, to an estimated $63 million. The Spurs have $53 million in guaranteed money on the books for next season.

But in order to capitalize on all that space, they’d have to relinquish valuable reserves Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, both of whom are unrestricted free agents after enjoying solid seasons. Matt Bonner is also unrestricted, while the Spurs have a team option on Austin Daye for roughly $1.1 million and the right to match any offer for Aron Baynes via a $1.1 million qualifying offer.

There’s also the matter of Tim Duncan’s $10.3 million player option, which would free up even more room if he retires. At that point, however, the desire to sign an aging player like Gasol to a potentially lucrative deal could diminish significantly.

Obviously, a lot may depend on how this season ends for the Spurs. You would have to think that if the Spurs win a title, Duncan and Ginobili will hang their sneakers up.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Popovich did the same.

That would leave the Spurs with Tony Parker and a younger core that includes Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter.

While you could certainly see the Spurs being interested in Gasol as a Duncan replacement, it is possible they'd skew younger. It's also possible that Gasol would look elsewhere if the old guard all moved on.

But let's assume that everyone stays for another run. Diaw has become a critical piece for the Spurs, and given his relationship with Parker and his success in San Antonio, it would be a shock to see him bolt elsewhere for more money. Diaw's upcoming deal has "discount" written all over it.

Would Gasol be willing to take something around the mid-level exception ($5.3 million) to play for a legitimate title contender?

It's hard to say, but it shouldn't be ruled outparticularly since the other options on his list (Memphis, Chicago, Los Angeles) might not have or be willing to offer much more than that.

Gasol has made plenty of money in his career, so maybe that's not as much of a priority anymore.

Ultimately, when there's a will, there's a way. If Gasol wants to be a Spur and the feeling is mutual, this can get done fairly easily. While a lot could change after this postseason, as of right now, this appears to be an absolutely perfect match.

Gasol has always played like a Spur, even if he's never been one.

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