One of the most interesting free agency situations this offseason will be that of Pau Gasol, who is keeping his options open, which means a return to the Los Angeles Lakers is an option. However, the two-time NBA champions would like to play for a contender if possible, which makes the interest shown in him by the Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors a much more suitable option.
Gasol made $19.28 million last season and put up some nice numbers in a system that helped players inflate their offensive numbers: 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds. That was more like the Gasol from 2008-2012 the Lakers enjoyed, and not the injured, flat version from the megalomaniac collapse of the 2012-2013 season.
If he wants to play for a contender, he’s going to take a serious pay cut. The Lakers would like to keep him but for a lot less money. However, as long as Kobe Bryant eats up around 40% of their salary cap and is even on the team, they can’t be championship contenders, and while Bryant has always been a Gasol defender and someone who is completely against trading him in the past, Gasol probably understands that title rings aren’t going to come if he stays with the Lakers.
The Memphis Grizzlies might be the option he looks at the hardest because of the option of playing with his brother. The Grizzlies might be changing their head coach, but they run a system that makes two big men thrive next to each other. However, unless Gasol takes a huge pay cut, the only way he lands in Tennessee is if Randolph opts out of his contract. Randolph has a player option worth $16.5 million next season, which he is likely to pick up.
The Toronto Raptors seem like a new horse in this race, but an interesting one. A year or two ahead of schedule, the Raptors made the playoffs and were one win away from knocking out the Brooklyn Nets. They need to see what they do about Kyle Lowry who is hitting free agency and secure their backup point guard position. However, Gasol should do well on that team, and they can give him the max mid-level exception if he’s willing to go that low.
The Chicago Bulls are interested as well, and considering that they’re in the East and seemingly a Derrick Rose health bill away from challenging for the title, that’s a very good option. Carlos Boozer might be as good as gone which will free up some cap space for these kind of signings. Maybe Bulls fans fantasize about Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, but Gasol is a more realistic approach, even if it means he comes off the bench behind Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah.