Dec 20, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) and shooting guard Wesley Johnson (11) in the second half of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center. The Lakers won 104-91. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers: The Case Against Re-signing Pau Gasol

At least Pau Gasol doesn’t have to hear the rumors anymore.

What a joke the last three years have been for Gasol, individually.  Having to put up with constant trade commotion since November 2011 has been torture.  Put yourself in a player’s shoes.  Wanting — desperately wanting — to be committed to one franchise and trying to do your best to succor a team that’s been on the level of mediocrity.  That’s been Gasol’s outlook since being bounced in the 2011 playoffs.

The annexed Chris Paul trade was supposed to send the Spaniard to Houston in a 3-way deal.  That fell through, and was also the first straw.  He was immediately aware management was willing to trade him.  Then (and this can be multiplied by 15), Gasol was in the heart of trades from the 2012 offseason to the 2013-14 season.  Grab any Lakers fan off the street, and ask them if they thought Gasol would survive last season in a Lakers uniform.  A trade almost seemed urgent, and overdue.

He’s been mistreated since the day he helped save the franchise’s 16th NBA title.  Yep, the Game 7 that featured a 25 percent shooting display from Kobe Bryant.  It was Gasol that imposed his will on the aging Kevin Garnett (he’s extinct in 2014) and led a comeback.

Gasol

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

Gasol’s remunerative contract expired at the end of 2013-14, and he’s officially on the unrestricted free agent market …. today.

If you believe teams in this athletically-driven league wouldn’t still die to have Gasol’s efforts for a cut-rate price, you’ve lost your mind.  He’s valuable, when he’s not being paid ridiculous amounts.  In five days, Gasol turns 34 years of age and he hasn’t played a full schedule since the 2010-11 season — the year it turned downhill and he received a chest punch from the Zen Master.  Yeah, sick memories.

He’ll never be the 2010 Gasol again, on either end of the court.  His offense isn’t as pounding in the post as it used to be, where he could develop position on any big and finish over the top.  With age, did come the bulkiness and a stronger body, but he isn’t as quick or crafty with his moves anymore.

The Lakers were paying roughly $49 million last season for the duo of Gasol and Kobe Bryant, which played a combined total of 66 games.  Gasol laced up for 60, and nearly matched his production from the 2011-12 season.  As we know, the experiment with Dwight Howard turned sour for Gasol, and it took him a full season to get used to Mike D’Antoni.  Thus, the 3.7 increase in points per game, 1.1 increase in rebounds, and 1.4 percent increase in field goal percentage helped him re-establish his image this past season.

Re-signing Gasol, however, would not be the wisest choice for Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.  First of all, is it even clear who’s running the show in Hollywood?  I mean, Jeanie Buss has taken control of the business side of things since the passing of her father.  Jim, the brother, is ruling the basketball operations, but usually puts his full trust in Kupchak.

Granting Bryant the criticized two-year deal put them in a tougher salary situation than they hoped for, although the Lakers will still have over $22.5 million in cap space available this summer.

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Feb. 5, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (left) and power forward Pau Gasol (16) react on the bench against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Can Los Angeles, the team that just overpaid one of it’s stars from the 2010 championship roster, be intelligent enough to use the rest of their money wisely?

Bringing back Gasol wouldn’t matter too much in terms of available salary cap, considering Los Angeles owns his Bird Rights this offseason.  Bird Rights are awarded to a player who’s played three or more seasons without being waived or switching scenery.  Therefore, Gasol can earn the most money by re-signing with his former team, since the Lakers essentially could exceed salary cap rules to return one of it’s former players.

For the Lakers, though, it comes down to whether or not they want Gasol to go along with the roster.  For basketball terms, I’m not sure it makes sense, especially if they’re on the path of signing Gasol to a long-term deal.  It’s certainly possible a one or two year deal can be gifted to the 7-footer, due to his age and the franchise’s uncertainty of their future free agency outlooks.  As the years progress, more five-star athletes will be becoming free agents, and the team wouldn’t love to be locked up in salary holds when that time comes.  It will be on the cessation of Bryant’s career, and the only hope for championship gold will be to surround him with guys to carry more of the load.  That costs money.

Last season, continued health issues for Gasol were apparent, and the Lakers can’t look at that as a coincidence.  The groin injury kept him sidelined longer than expected, and then he battled a unique case of vertigo, missing the rest of the year.

Signing Gasol for this upcoming season is thought to be a cherry on top for luring Carmelo Anthony as well.  Am I the only one that’s not seeing that logic?  Anthony just crossed the 30-year-old plateau himself, but still wants to play with an energetic squad that can run.  Chicago, with Derrick Rose returning, seems like the best basketball fit.  If Gasol returned to Los Angeles, Carmelo would ultimately be playing with two other members older than him, creating perhaps one of the least athletic lineups in the game.

Gasol’s aging has cost his defense, as well.

Guards, especially point guards since the Lakers can’t seem to stop them, are quick to get past Gasol off switches.  Even facing up with an athletic front court talent, it was visible all season long that he couldn’t create the space to get off clean looks, and bigger bullies in the paint found their way to the rim.

Even rebounding, Gasol racks up the most for Los Angeles, but finds a hard time stacking up against a lot of the opposing options in the middle:

RBPCRebounding opportunities — defined as “the number of times a player was within 3.5 feet of a rebound — heavily favored other bigs around the league.  Of course, you have to look at what type of offense Los Angeles was running.  The Mike D’Antoni offense created an absurd amount of 3-point bombs, and what do those create?  Long rebounds.  Therefore, maybe Gasol had a tough time in that system.  Nevertheless, that wasted two years of his career, and now you don’t know what you’ll be getting from a 34-year-old 7-footer.  You rarely see guys carry a frontcourt at that age.

On defense, you can’t even exaggerate how horrific the Lakers were last season.

Besides Philadelphia, which didn’t even show up to the area most nights, the Lakers owned the worst defense in the entire league, due to having absolutely no discipline.  Gasol said that best, by the way.

Gasol isn’t a rim stopper, and that’s exactly what a new coach (likely Byron Scott) would want to enforce.  While defending an opponent in the paint last season, Gasol allowed opponents to shoot 54.6 percent near the rim.  One guy that normally gets a bad rap for defensive pressure Hornets’ center, Al Jefferson.  Jefferson held his opponents to 52.7 percent inside the paint.  How about the youngster that didn’t live up to his summer league hype, Jonas Valanciunas?  His opponents scored just 51.1 percent of the time near the rim.

In this league, lateral quickness is almost everything.  Unless, of course, you can finish over the top with your shot.  Gasol can do that, but he’s not worthy of handing a contract to if it’s for more than one year.  The defensive inefficiencies should outweigh anything for the Lakers, since they are confident they can find offensive answers in free agency.  It’s stopping the Western Conference from exploding on them every night that’s the problem.

Any team that picks up Gasol this offseason will be receiving a veteran voice for their guys, but he can often be the quiet type of leader.  When circumstances call for it, however, he lets his opinions be known.  He believes in a coach issuing discipline, and would still love to be a team’s second scoring option.  Reality sets in, though, and Gasol must realize his times of being a feared threat on the block, may be over.  I have a strong feeling he thrived last season — 29 games with 20+ points — because of D’Antoni’s pace and Bryant’s departure with injury.  Still, he shot 48 percent for the season, and that’s around the expected amount of any 7-footer with years of experience.

It’s time to search for other routes, ones that will give you more athletic options for the future.

Maybe the Lakers listen, or maybe they retain Gasol until he’s one of the oldest frontcourt members in the league.  Buss and Kupchak just need to understand …. it’s time to refresh the roster.  Thank Gasol for his duties, and pass.

 

Tags: Jim Buss Julius Randle Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Mitch Kupchak Pau Gasol

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