Free Agent Update: Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol: 2013-14 Salary ($19,300,000)

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Pau is a dilemma. He’s easily the most skilled big man in the NBA right now and one of the most skilled ever in terms of his passing, craftiness, IQ and low-post array of moves. However, the past few years haven’t been kind to Pau and that has greatly affected his stock. First off, the Spaniard has only played 174 games in the past three seasons – he’s injury prone. The other thing, which was by no means his fault, was the whole Mike D’Antoni/Dwight, Nash, Kobe trio in Los Angeles. That season was a meltdown by anybody’s standards and Pau, who was supposed to be an integral part of the Big 4, was forgotten. Then last season, in what could’ve been the most embarrassing Lakers campaign ever, Pau constantly complained with Mike D’Antoni’s tactics. From playing small ball, to not playing at all, Pau has definitely endured some difficult years in a Lakers jersey and this summer might be his opportunity to start fresh. The interesting thing to see will be what Pau chooses… And I don’t mean a team. Out of the 7 teams vying for his signature, only 1 can offer him substantial money. Dallas could probably offer him something in the 15 million range depending on what Dirk is willing to take. However, after that, despite these teams being in contention for championships, they can’t offer him even a third of what he made last season.

Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls

lakers_150The Lakers have the edge because they have the cap space. They can offer Pau whatever he wants to bring him back. Pau also has a deep connection with Los Angeles and the Lakers as he has won two championships there in 2009 and 2010. He and Kobe are also very very close so Kobe’s influence on Pau might play a role in his choice. The thing with going back to the Lakers is that Pau isn’t guaranteed winning or change for that matter. D’Antoni was fired recently – something Pau had been wishing for for a while. However, as of now, the team is very much in shams. Cap space is a beautiful thing, but it guarantees nothing. Just look at Joe Dumars’ Pistons in the summer of 2009 where Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva – who combined for 25 points per game in their first season in Detroit – were paid a combined 90 million dollars. So yes, cap space is a luxury, but it means nothing and if Pau were to sign, he would have absolutely no idea on what would happen next. With Nick Young and Kent Bazemore on the free agent market and Jodie Meeks already on the Pistons, the Lakers are looking at a team full of empty slots waiting to be filled and there is unfortunately no guarantee as to who will fill them. It’s certainly not Carmelo or LeBron or any of the next tier guys like Luol Deng or Kyle Lowry – the latter of whom signed a 4 year 48 million dollar deal with the Raptors last night. Pau turns 34 in three days and while he’s still playing at a very high level, the clock is ticking on his career and at this point, Pau, who has amassed a total of 133.6 million dollars over the course of his career should be looking for championships rather than some more 0’s on his paycheck. He’s endured some toxic years and for Pau getting out of Los Angeles would be the best for his career. In an extremely competitive Western Conference, the Lakers are nowhere near contention and Pau returning doesn’t change any of that.

NYKNICKS_Logo-FinalThe Knicks’ pitch to Pau Gasol would center around all they have to offer: the re-creation of the Lakers, and cap space next summer. In terms of personnel connections, the Knicks have the upper hand in all of this. Phil Jackson led Pau to his two championships in ’09 and ’10, and Derek Fisher was Pau’s teammate from 2008-2012. Phil’s goals for the Knicks are abundantly clear; he wants to re-create the Lakers… but in New York. He’s already hired Derek Fisher to be the head coach he can lead vicariously through and he has also offered Kurt Rambis a 4 year, 4.8 million dollar deal to be Fisher’s top assistant – Rambis was an assistant in Los Angeles last season and was on Jackson’s staff during both of his stints with the Lakers. Other assistants rumored to join the Knicks’ bench is Rick Fox, former Laker player, Bill Cartwright, former Bulls player under Phil Jackson and Jim Cleamons, a former assistant of Jackson’s as well. In terms of player personnel, the Knicks have just acquired Pau’s teammate on the Spanish national team; Jose Calderon. In addition to Calderon, the Knicks signed Lamar Odom and can bring back Shannon Brown another former teammate of Pau’s from Los Angeles. Pau could sign with New York and know that there is a familiar and strong infrastructure being built to ascend the team back to the top. The only difference at this point between Los Angeles and New York is the jersey. Pau has more fellow teammates in New York, one of his best friends as the coach and his former coach as the president of the team. There are two things Pau would have to consider before signing with New York. The first is that, next year, they are going to be bad. Every player considering signing with the Knicks has to accept that fact. The Knicks are the same team as last year except instead of Tyson and Raymond Felton they have Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert. There is also uncertainty on whether Carmelo Anthony will be donning a Knicks jersey next season. The other thing he’d have to consider is the significant pay cut. Because the Knicks are paying the luxury tax, they have the tax-payers mid-level exception worth 3.2 million dollars. Waiving Samuel Dalembert would give them the ability to offer Pau 5 million, but they have said no to that option. Pau would be taking 16 million less than last season to play in New York, however, the nice thing about New York’s financial situation is that next summer they’ll be bursting with cap space, which means Pau can sign a one-year deal and then sign a longer extension for money he’s accustomed to getting next summer. Of course all of this rides on the simple question of whether Pau wants to play in New York or not. He should know that playing in New York would most likely bring Carmelo back as well, which would form a very talented front-court in New York.

heat_150The Heat’s situation with every free agent, not just Pau Gasol, is dependent on what the Big 3 decide to do. A few days ago, word broke out that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be taking starting salaries at 11 million and 12 million respectively, which along with LeBron’s demand of a max contract and the smaller salaries of Shabazz Napier, Norris Cole and the obviously returning Udonis Haslem, would give the Heat 12 million to spend on free agents. That rumor has been called “Bs” by the man who would know it best

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ESPN’s Chris Broussard affirmed the claims of Henry Thomas in an article written last night:

Bosh is looking to sign a five-year deal worth between $80 million and $90 million while Wade is thinking along the lines of $55 million-60 million over four years, sources said.Those figures, combined with a max-level contract that would begin at $20.7 million for James, would not clear the cap room it would likely take to sign free-agent targets such as Kyle Lowry,Luol Deng and possibly Pau Gasol.

If the Heat’s Big 3 do as Chris Broussard says, there is no room to sign Pau Gasol, but then again the Big 3 wouldn’t re-sign if they knew there was no opportunity to bolster the supporting cast so if Bosh and Wade do take as much as stated, LeBron will likely go elsewhere, or if not LeBron, the entire Big 3 will likely split up. If the Heat do manage to work out the kinks and clear 12 million in cap space, Pau would be the perfect fit. Pau has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot from the outside, which is pivotal in the Heat offense, which revolves around drive and kicks. Pau also has great vision and getting it to him in the high post and working off that would be very dangerous considering how hard it is to guard LeBron on the move off the ball. Pau also gives the Heat something they haven’t had before and that’s consistent low-post play. Pau could be a shot-clock-winding-down-last-second-resort type of option for the Heat that they’ve never had before. Pau is a traditional big man with the skill of a guard and that’s why he fits into the Heat’s small ball lineup because he’s not someone who will clog the paint or slow them down as a team, he’d actually make them more dangerous as he’d provide them with another facet to their game that opposing defenses would have to guard.

thunder_150 I think if the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are now considered the favorites in the pursuit of Pau Gasol (according to ESPN), were able to bring Pau to the team, they would be immediate favorites to win a championship. Time and time again the Thunder are right on the cusp of reaching the finals, but in an extremely competitive Western Conference they always seem to fall short. The reason? Lack of offensive weapons. You’re probably surprised. A team with Kevin Durant, the scoring champion and Russell Westbrook, the 2nd best scorer among point guards are having troubles offensively? Yes. After Westbrook and Durant there are very few scoring options for the Thunder. Serge Ibaka contributes 15-18 per game, and Reggie Jackson offers 12-15 off the bench but besides those 4 there are nobody. That’s why their offense has the tendency to get stagnant, because there just aren’t options to go to and that causes Durant and Westbrook to hold the ball and play one-on-one. They can, they definitely can because of their supreme talent, but in the playoffs in a slower series, where defenses are focused on them and them only, there aren’t options to go to. If you want evidence just re-watch the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs. Pau Gasol would give them another scoring option, but that’s not all, because he’s such a great passer, Pau would be key in ball movement. Getting Pau the ball in the post attracts extreme attention from the defenses and a team, stupidly decides to double, then they’d be leaving Kevin Durant for the three or Russell Westbrook to dive, dunk and scream like he always does. Pau gives them, like the Heat, a new facet to their game. He is another defense attractor, which relieves pressure off of Westbrook and Durant. Defensively, the idea of a Pau, Ibaka combo would be extremely dangerous, and reminiscent of the Pau, Bynum combo in 2009 and 2010, just with more shot blocking. If Pau really wanted to join the Thunder, he could sign for the full mid-level exception worth 5.3 million. Like the Knicks, if he wanted to sign a 1 year deal and then re-sign for a longer, more lucrative extension he could because of Kendrick Perkins’ contract expiring next summer. If the Thunder were to trade Perkins’ expiring contract or amnesty his 9.4 million, Pau would have the best of both worlds – the money and the success.

spurs_150The Spurs are about 3 million under the cap as it stands right now, including the rookie deal of Kyle Anderson and the recent signing of Patty Mills. What that means is either Boris Diaw is going to have to take 3 million, or Pau isn’t coming to the Spurs. I highly doubt Boris Diaw settles for 3 million after the breakout season he had and the effect he had on the Finals last year. So I’m effectively counting out Pau from this whole ordeal, but the idea of Pau, who is essentially the perfect Spur, joining with Tim Duncan on the frontline to win another one in San Antonio would be an NBA fans wet dream. Diaw will likely have to take the mid-level exception of 5.3 million if he wants to sign with the Spurs but the R.C Buford and the Spurs front-office will have fierce competition from other teams around the league considering how effective Diaw was in all aspects of the game during the Finals.

Dallas-MavericksThe Mavericks, like their Texas rivals, are effectively counted out of signing Pau Gasol. However, this exclusion from the Gasol-mania is not due to financial issues but more because of fit. The Mavericks just traded for rim protector, former Mavericks champion and defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler so bringing in Pau Gasol would almost definitely mean he’d play a bench role because he’s certainly not capable of playing the 3. The rumors connecting Pau with the Mavericks were realistic before the trade with New York but now it’s just impossible. I’m not sure why the Mavericks would even be going after Pau when someone like Luol Deng who actually fits a need and is of the same caliber is on the market, as well as someone like Trevor Ariza. For Pau, going to Dallas to meet with Cuban is a waste of time. He’d be a poor fit and would likely see his minutes and opportunities diminished by the already solidified front-court duo of Tyson Chandler and the soon-to-be-re-signed Dirk Nowitzki.

bulls_150 Chicago is really only approaching Pau as a back-up option if Carmelo decides to return to New York or go somewhere other than the Windy City. Unlike Carmelo, the Bulls could actually offer Pau what he’s worth: something between 15 and 16 million. Pau probably isn’t even worth that much, which only makes things that much better for the Bulls. All of this rides on the amnesty or trade of Carlos Boozer and his 16.8 million dollar contract. If Pau came in, the Bulls would be receiving an average post-defender but a player with extreme length and size to help on the inside with Joakim Noah. The good thing about the Bulls’ roster is that they have the ability to hide poor defensive players like Carlos Boozer and D.J Augustin. Pau could slide into the lineup and provide the Bulls with a scoring pick and roll option and a low-post offense option, which they get little to nothing of from Carlos Boozer. The Bulls need scoring badly and outside shooting and while Pau can stretch the floor, I’m just not sure that Pau really satisfies their needs to the fullest extent. However, if they miss out on Carmelo, Pau is the next best thing and would instantly make them the best in the East, barring no headline additions by the Heat.


 

As of right now I’m really unsure on where he’ll go. Los Angeles can offer him the most money but because of his past few toxic years and the uncertainty of how the team will shape up I’m counting Los Angeles out. Along with the Lakers, the Spurs and Mavericks are off the list. That leaves Oklahoma City, Chicago, New York and Miami. Miami’s acquisition of Pau hinges significantly on the decision of the Big 3 and what they decide to do financially. If Bosh and Wade do take the appropriate cuts to give LeBron his max contract and leave room for extra talent then I think Pau would be silly not to go to the Heat. If they can’t figure it out, they’d be off the list. The Bulls are thinking of Pau as a plan B to Carmelo so their pursuit of Pau depends on where Carmelo Anthony goes. The Knicks could be a sleeper in all of this. They can’t offer him the money next season, but in 2015 they can re-sign Pau to a longer and more lucrative contract because of the cap space they’d have next summer. The Knicks are basically home to Pau who would be going to a place with former coaches, assistant coaches and players alike. He’d also be entering into the offense he thrived in during the Lakers’ championship runs in 2009 and 2010. However, taking 3 million is a humongous sacrifice on the part of Pau and I’m unsure he’d be willing to take that risk. The other option would be the Thunder who could offer Pau the mid-level exception of 5.3 million as well as the best chance to win a championship as his arrival would create a big 4 in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and himself. At this point, I really can’t put my finger on where he’ll go. Fingers crossed for the Knicks, but reports have the Thunder as the front-runner, so we’ll have to wait and see.

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