LOS ANGELES – Pau Gasol felt nostalgic in what he admitted might have been his last day with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. He's also excited about his impending free agency and is open to a reunion with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who now runs the New York Knicks' front office.
"I'm happy for him and the position that he got," Gasol said. "I'm always going to be a big fan and a friend. I would listen."
Gasol completed his seventh season with the Lakers averaging 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 60 games. He won two titles with the Lakers under Jackson, but the latter part of his tenure in L.A. has been clouded by constant trade speculation, including a near-deal to the Houston Rockets. He also didn't fit with coach Mike D'Antoni's offense and had two straight disappointing seasons.
Despite the struggle in recent years, Gasol seemed very much at peace during his postseason media briefing on Thursday. The main reason is because he can help decide his own future as a free agent this offseason.
"This year is a little different," Gasol said. "Every time I said [he felt sentimental] is because I didn't know if I was going to be traded. That has been kind of a theme for the last three years. But this year that possibility is out of the question. Now it's because I will be in charge of my future, my destiny and I have to listen to the different possibilities that I will have on the table."
Gasol said he would "listen closely" to the possibility of returning to the Lakers. The biggest reason he'd consider returning is to continue playing with Kobe Bryant.
Gasol, however, also said he had "misunderstandings" with D'Antoni the past two years and was uncertain if the status of the coach would affect his decision. D'Antoni has one more year and a team option remaining on his Lakers contract, but his future with the organization is in question. The Lakers might also want to part ways with Gasol to save money for better free agent classes in 2015 and 2016.
"The last few years I've kept on my mind that this could be my last day here," Gasol said. " 'Let me try to enjoy it. Let me try to make the best out of it.' That has kind of been my mindset the last couple of years. This could be my last day, maybe."
Jackson coached Gasol with the Lakers from 2007-10. Since being hired as the Knicks' president, Jackson has signed former Lakers forward Lamar Odom to a contract and met with former Lakers forward Metta World Peace. The Knicks would be interested in Gasol in free agency, a source said.
Gasol, 33, made $19.3 million in the final year of his contract and isn't expected to get anything close to the type of salary again. Joining the Knicks would likely come with a massive pay cut since the most they can offer – without a sign-and-trade deal – is the taxpayer's midlevel exception, expected to be worth about $3.2 million.
With the Knicks expected to play Jackson's triangle offense and more of a half-court, such a style of play could be attractive to Gasol. Gasol, however, also said he wanted to play on a championship-caliber team and the Knicks didn't make the playoffs this season with Carmelo Anthony.
"I want to enjoy the moment and not be too stressed about it, even though at some point I'm going to have to make a decision," said Gasol, who is improving from his recent bout with vertigo. "It will be exciting. I look at this as an opportunity. For the first, and maybe only time, I will be a free agent where I can choose. It's exciting. It's nothing that I've experienced in the NBA."
Gasol offered his polite goodbyes to the media and Lakers fans as he had in recent years at the end of the season. Thursday's, however, might have been a true farewell.
"I'm very grateful to be a part of this franchise and the city," Gasol said. "I will always be part of this franchise and this city no matter what. If I don't come back, that's how I feel about it. I'm thankful for everything I experienced in this city, the fans, the media, everyone."
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