I consider myself a veteran, knowledgeable NBA fan. However, in the recent history of basketball I cannot recite a single situation that compares to what Mr. Gasol has been dealing with since the 2011 off-season. As you all know, Pau Gasol was once traded away from the Lakers in that notorious nixed Chris Paul deal which would’ve brought the superstar guard to the Lakers. However, that is not the most challenging portion of Pau’s career as a Laker.
The worst times, actually, followed after that failed trade. Endless rumors, endless trade situations and multiple “almost done” deals. Pau responded as you would expect him to. He remained professional and mature about the on-going commotion. Occasionally, Pau would let the press know that he does not feel fully happy, and admitted that some of the trade talks and criticism bothered him. Nevertheless, Gasol proudly wore the purple and gold jersey, and made a habit of letting the world know that he loves Los-Angeles and the franchise, despite the fact that the team attempted to trade him, and in fact would have, if not for Stern’s “stern” veto.
Since “the veto”, Pau’s numbers took a measurable hit. He scored less points and rebounded at a lower rate. Even though recently his numbers started to creep up closer to the glory days, Gasol still seems to lack that aggressive hunger which we all saw in that span of 2009-2010. Here and there, you’ll see Pau face the basket and take the ball to the hoop aggressively, and finish with a beautiful lefty hook. Sadly however, you can also expect him to follow that great play with a weak post up, and an array of lazy shots from 15-17 feet.
So here is the question: What should the Lakers do? Trade him? Keep him? Let his contract expire and leave? Let’s take a look at each scenario:
I am open to the idea of trading the Spaniard. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pau, I appreciate everything he has done for this franchise and yet I would easily pull the trigger if the right deal comes along. Note the word “right”. What do I mean by “right”? Well, first of all it has to be a deal in which the Lakers either get better in terms of improving the roster or creating more flexibility in free agency. If we trade Pau for another player, it must be someone on a big fat expiring contract, or someone young and promising.
What the Lakers need to focus on at this point is not the present, not next season, nor the season after that, but rather the next 5-10 years. You don’t want to trade Pau for a veteran player who although might be serviceable today, will only get worse as he ages.
Some trade ideas that I would absolutely jump on would have to include a first-round pick, preferably in this upcoming draft. I guarantee you, if the Lakers were offered a package of any player + a 2014 first-round pick, Pau Gasol would not be wearing a Lakers jersey today. Sadly, this is not a video game and no team at this level is silly enough to give up a pick in a deep draft for the 33-year-old forward. Then again, Mitch Kupchak has pulled off crazier deals in the past, and I pray that he proves me wrong once again and draws another rabbit out of the hat.
Even with all of Pau’s struggles, he remains to be one of the most skilled big men this game has ever seen. I don’t need to mention how great his court vision is, his ability to finish with both hands, and his capability from mid-range. We all know that. Yet age and injuries have caught up to Pau, and he is no longer someone who can carry a big load on a good team.
Personally, I think that Gasol at this point would perfectly fit as the third option on any contender. He still demands defensive attention, and is capable of turning it on at times. A good example of what I am talking about is what Chris Bosh is doing in Miami. He is not expected to come out and get 22 and 12 every game, but he is invaluable to the success of his team because he can provide a solid scoring punch and secure the rebounds when needed.
If the Lakers do decide to resign the Spaniard, it should be a deal that would not cross the $8.5 million per year line. Pau will receive bigger offers in the free agent market, but most likely from teams who will not offer a winning environment.
A dream scenario would be the Lakers someway somehow grabbing Greg Monroe, and pairing him up with Gasol upfront. A Gasol-Monroe tandem could prove to be lethal. Pau can play center, while the shorter but bigger and younger Monroe can provide the much needed power inside the paint at the 4 position. To summarize my point, Pau Gasol still has enough in the tank and can still really help the Lakers given the right situation. A critical point for Los Angeles’ front office is the price at which they can bring back #16 if and when they decide to do so.
Let Him Go
Finally, the Lakers always have the option to let Gasol’s contract expire and not offer him an extension. After all, Pau is already headed towards his mid-30s, his knees are constantly bothering him and he just seems to have lost the hunger that once fueled his incredible Game 7 performance in the 2010 NBA Finals.
The Lakers are in a transitional period, during which it is important to find a recipe which you can use as the basis for your future success. Sadly, the 33-year-old Gasol is not the most desired ingredient in this “recipe”. However, Pau is still an extremely talented player with plenty of games left in him. In my opinion, letting Pau go for nothing would be a bit foolish.
The Lakers must weight in on all of the offers they receive from other teams, before they decide that the best thing to do is let the man go and let him decide his own fate in the NBA.
This was an article by Artem Boyajyan. You can follow him on Twitter here: @ArtemBoyajyan