Pau Gasol stretches before an exhibition game against Denver (Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol is in the final year of a three-year, $60 million contract extension he signed in 2009. Pau is due to make $19.3 this season, and while the injured Gasol certainly wasn’t worth that price tag last year, proper utilization of his significant talents and a healthy set of wheels could vault Gasol right back to All-Star status if everything falls into place.
Beyond that? Nobody knows. The Lakers are hoping to be prime free agent movers this summer, what with Steve Nash already in place and both Gasol and Kobe Bryant’s contracts expiring. If Bryant signs for a reduced amount, something he’s already sworn off, and Gasol decides to take a large pay cut, the Lakers could still have enough scratch to bring in a boffo free agent for one last shot at a ring for the aging veterans.
Or, Gasol could leave outright, looking to approximate the pay scale that he’s used to. Staring down what could be his final season in Los Angeles (single tear), Gasol spoke with Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Daily News:
“If I perform well, am reliable and put up a great season, then I’m sure the Lakers will have interest in extending me maybe before the season is over,” Gasol said. “We’ll see if there’s interest or not. Then we’ll go from there.”
In the interest of the Lakers maximizing their financial flexibility, would Gasol accept taking a significant paycut?
“Probably not,” he said. “You have to explore your options, but I would like to continue to play for the Lakers and maybe finish my career here. But you have to see the cards on the table.”
Gasol isn’t really angling here, but it doesn’t take a negotiatin’ maven to point out that you don’t give your potential employers the option of expecting a pay cut some nine months before free agency hits.
Secondly, we have yet to see just how Gasol will react to once again working as the focus of the Laker offense, with or without a healthy Bryant. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s schemes took Gasol out of his comfort zone last season, wasting the talents of a unique player that still has quite a lot to offer in terms of production, alongside proper spacing and movement. The Lakers coach obviously understands as much, and according to Medina has attempted to make it up to Gasol in sort by referring to him constantly as “the best center in the league,” which is kind of odd to hear in the face of Gasol’s bench demotion last season.
Injuries somewhat excused that, but the fact remains that Gasol’s half-court abilities seem out of place in D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense, even if D’Antoni did field a similarly-strong passing big man in Boris Diaw for a while during his time in Phoenix. With Bryant’s return uncertain and Steve Nash still hobbling from an ankle sprain suffered in September, Gasol should get a healthy dose of touches to start the season. Will these looks be face-up jumpers from the outside, or will he get to work at the apex of a modified triangle, as was the case under former coach Phil Jackson?
All this remains to be seen, tough news for a team set to pay the luxury tax again despite having no playoff assurances – the team barely snuck in last season, and that was on a team featuring Howard and a healthy Bryant for 95 percent of the campaign.
This was always going to be a strange season, as the Lakers waited out the final year of Bryant and Gasol’s contract, as the July of 2014 conundrum has been puzzling Laker fans for months. If the Lakers and Gasol can’t come to an acceptable agreement, trust that at even age 34 there will be plenty of suitors with plenty of cap space for a 7-footer with an ungodly amount of skills.
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