Is Signing Pau Gasol Consolation Prize or Missing Piece for Chicago Bulls?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

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Pau Gasol isn't Carmelo Anthony, but the skillful Spaniard is exactly the guy the Chicago Bulls need to take them where they want to go.

According to the big man himself, Gasol is set to join Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Tom Thibodeau and the whole Windy City gang after seven years and a pair of championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers:

Before going any further, let's all acknowledge that this is a hell of a calculated career move by one of the league's most thoughtful players. Right up front, Gasol is swapping a death march through the Western Conference for a casual stroll through the East.

What's more, he'll go to a team with concepts of discipline and sacrifice deeply coded into its DNA, a terrific contrast to the competing agendas and me-first chaos he endured with the Lakers over the past two years.

With the Bulls, Gasol won't need to be a featured star. Instead, he can do the things he does well (of which there are many), limit his minutes and, ultimately, go a whole lot deeper into the postseason than he would have otherwise been able to expect. This is a masterful, unassailable win for Gasol.

Almost makes one want to take up meditation, doesn't it?

Little deep thought is required to see how Gasol can help the Bulls in basic, strategic terms. In fact, the simplest explanation of his positive impact goes something like this: He is not Carlos Boozer.

Chicago is almost certain to lose (read: finally jettison) its incumbent power forward, according to ESPN's Marc Stein:

Now, to be fair, Boozer isn't a bad player. He never gets a fair shake from fans or media because his contract doesn't square with his production. He's overpaid, which makes his middling defense and dwindling offensive stats look worse than they are.

That said, it's tough to make the case that Boozer does a single thing better than Gasol, and last year's numbers tell that tale clearly:

Pau Gasol vs. Carlos Boozer in 2013-14

Remember, too, this isn't just a one-to-one comparison. We also have to factor in Gasol's skills as a facilitator and team player. He makes his teammates better, an indisputable fact stamped with approval by a guy who knows what he's talking about:

"Pau is probably the most skilled big man that this game has ever seen," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Mark Willard and Mychal Thompson on ESPN 710 radio.

So in addition to being more productive in a very basic, statistical sense, Gasol is also a player who can give everyone else on Chicago's roster a boost—especially on offense, where any help should be welcomed with open arms.

Last season, the Bulls posted an offensive rating of 99.7 points per 100 possessions, third worst in the league, per NBA.com. Something tells me that won't be the case with Gasol whipping passes like these around:

Granted, Gasol can't move like he used to. Those passing instincts and generally unselfish spirit don't diminish with age, though. His ability to facilitate will pair beautifully with Noah's, who is on the very short list of big men whose passing skills come close to Gasol's.

There might be a bit of an adjustment period at first, but Gasol and Noah are two players who have made careers out of molding their games to the needs of their teams. They excel at filling in the gaps and working together with different kinds of players. And besides, Gasol figures to be the one spelling Noah at center most often—something the Bulls' perpetually exhausted big man will surely appreciate.

Rose figures to benefit from Gasol's presence on offense as well. Though the Bulls put up fantastic offensive numbers when the former MVP was a ball-dominant guard three years ago, the current version of Rose—now twice a knee-surgery patient—can benefit from playing off the ball more.

In addition, Gasol should help get looks for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the team's wing players. 

From the second he steps onto the floor, Pau will become (by far) Chicago's best one-on-one low-block threat. His presence there will not only draw in the defense in a way that should free up shooters, but his passing acumen means that space will be utilized expertly.

February 23, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) moves the ball against Brooklyn Nets power forward Mason Plumlee (1) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Look, Gasol's 34 and has had foot issues in recent years. That's scary.

And you have to wonder whether he has the mobility necessary to defend NBA frontcourt players who are rapidly decreasing in size and increasing in shooting touch and speed. Of the many things Gasol is, "quick on his feet" is not one of them anymore.

Defensively, it's tough to imagine him moving well enough to be the perfect helper in Thibodeau's five-men-on-a-string system. It's also worth noting that Gasol seemed downright disinterested in defense last season. Perhaps that was a symptom of playing for a Lakers team made up of new blood focusing on individual offense as a way to audition for an NBA job.

From Gasol's perspective, it's understandable that help-defense might not have been all that appealing when he knew none was coming in return.

At any rate, Gasol is a wildly intelligent player, and he understands where he's supposed to be on the floor. We should expect his focus to return now that he's free of the Lakers' defensive disaster. Plus, he's never going to lose his size, which allowed him to turn away 1.5 shots per game last season.

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 19:  Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls puts up a shot against Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, b
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When LeBron James joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, he completely altered the landscape in the East. The team that represented the conference in the last four Finals, the Miami Heat, is no more. And while James' exit weakens Miami immensely, it probably doesn't elevate the Cavs to conference favorites—at least not until Cleveland pulls off another move or two.

The Indiana Pacers are a flawed outfit likely to lose Lance Stephenson. The Washington Wizards won't return Trevor Ariza. The Toronto Raptors haven't made any significant upgrades.

In addition to being generally soft, the East is now wide open, ready and waiting for the Bulls to take back what they so thoroughly owned just a couple of seasons ago. Gasol makes Chicago significantly better than it was with Boozer, and while Rose's health remains the pivotal factor, adding a brilliant offensive player to the frontcourt—one with a phenomenal passing eye and championship pedigree—is absolutely huge.

Maybe Chicago would have preferred Melo, but the truth is, Gasol could be the perfect piece to get the Bulls back to the spot they've been chasing since Rose went down.