With the Chicago Bulls missing the postseason and a number of chemistry and coaching issues apparent in the team, Pau Gasol’s player option for this offseason becomes all the more interesting.
After all, he signed with the Bulls for a bargain price of $22million over three years because he wanted to join a championship contender.
Two years later and Pau’s performances have been roundly impressive, silencing all the doubters who thought him too old to be a valuable piece of Chicago’s puzzle. The Bulls, however, have struggled and this season missed the playoffs.
Chicago’s frontcourt of Gasol, Noah, Gibson, Mirotic and Portis never really looked right while Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler still failed to really gel together, as opposed to individually.
Indeed, the guards play with what K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune labels as "my-turn, your-turn performances."
It is hard to see how the Bulls can regain their status as one of the Eastern Conference’s powerhouses and, assuming Pau’s motivation remains prioritised on success, it seems only logical for him to opt out and leave Chicago behind.
All signs point to him opting out and if he does he will undoubtedly be a highly-coveted player.
With speculation rife as to Pau’s offseason decisions, Marc Gasol took the rare step of specifying a team he thought his brother should sign with, telling John Martin of ESPN:
Marc may well have a point. Pau would be a nice fit for the Spurs and there is perhaps only one team, the Golden State Warriors, that is better poised to be a contender.
Indeed, Pau told Spanish newspaper Marca that the Spurs were “an interesting option” while specifying that nothing had been decided. It is not just Marc that thinks Pau would be a great fit for the Spurs, though, and pundits also see that this deal would "make a lot of sense."
Marc went on to specify why the Spurs were perfect for Pau, and it is hard to argue with him again:
San Antonio might be the best franchise in the NBA at managing playing time and player injuries to keep older players efficient for longer.
It has worked with Tim Duncan. It has worked with Manu Ginobili. Popovich is a top coach and San Antonio is the top team for keeping their players fresh and happy. That is something that Pau must have noticed and could be a huge draw.
The attraction of the Spurs, however, should not be so simple.
The future of Tim Duncan has to be considered. If he retires this summer, the path for Pau to contribute is clear. He takes The Big Fundamental’s place next to LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting five and provides the Spurs with everything they need.
If Duncan plays on, however, Pau has to be asking himself if there is room for him. San Antonio already has big men Duncan, Aldridge, Boban Marjanovic, David West and Boris Diaw in the rotation and while Gasol would still be an upgrade and a serviceable addition, would he be completely happy in that situation?
Of course, San Antonio could trade or release West and Diaw and then the problem is solved but the future of Tim Duncan still seems to be the deciding factor.
Where else might Pau sign?
One team that could enter the race to play for Gasol’s signature is the Oklahoma City Thunder. This nearly happened in 2014, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had a "face-to-face meeting" with the Spaniard, but Pau's love of all things cultural apparently put brakes on the move.
Still, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Pau abandon this kind of motive if he truly wants to chase a ring and where better than at the Thunder.
This, however, also depends on what happens to one of their current players. If Kevin Durant re-signs with the Thunder, they would definitely be an ideal destination for Pau.
With a roster including superstars Durant and Russell Westbrook, arguably two of the association’s top five players, Oklahoma is without doubt contenders for the NBA title and Gasol could be the missing piece.
Enes Kanter’s offense is a valuable tool but few would suggest he is a better option in the paint than Pau. Gasol would give the Thunder a post presence they have lacked recently and it is worth stating that he already has some experience playing alongside Serge Ibaka for the Spanish national team.
A starting five of Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka and Gasol, with whatever shooting guard they have next season, would be a mostly invulnerable unit and would automatically become one of the teams to beat. Between the Thunder’s strength, Pau’s familiarity with Ibaka and his clear fit in their schemes, Oklahoma have to be contenders for Gasol should Durant re-sign.
Another option would be with the New York Knicks. Either starting next to Porzingis or as the sixth man behind the Latvian and Robin Lopez, the Knicks might not be a bad option for Gasol.
He is more than acquainted with New York president Phil Jackson, having won two championships together with the Lakers. The Knicks have struggled to get Jackson’s triangle offense going and Pau’s familiarity with the system could be invaluable for them.
Of course, unless the Knicks can lure a top point guard, like Rajon Rondo or Mike Conley, to the Big Apple, Pau is unlikely to see New York as contenders, even with Carmelo Anthony. If they do bring in one of those two, however, the Knicks might be a good option for the Spanish veteran.
What about the Memphis Grizzlies? The Gasols uniting in the NBA for the first time? I’m afraid this is little more than a dream.
I’m sure Pau would be at least a little interested in returning to the franchise he holds so many records for and teaming up with his brother but it just does not seem feasible. The Grizzlies aren’t exactly contenders and a title seems some way off, especially if Mike Conley jumps ship this year.
To make things worse, there is hardly room for Pau in the Grizzlies' convoluted frontcourt. Between Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Memphis bigs are pretty solid already and adding Pau doesn’t do too much to solve their issues. A homecoming to Tennessee should not be on the cards.
The final choice for Pau is staying in Chicago. The Bulls’ core is still strong and he might feel like giving the franchise one more year to glue together properly and improve on their slump last year.
Butler is a legitimate star and Derrick Rose often hints at finding his old form and with the tenacious Noah and reliable Gasol in the frontcourt, the unit is really quite good. Still, that seems like a longshot. Pau's exit has, in fact, been expected since the trade deadline.
It is more probable that Pau sees other options as his priority because they are closer to contending.
Marc’s suggestion of San Antonio, and Oklahoma should be the frontrunners but both of them are dependent on the decisions of other. Providing they bring back KD, don’t be surprised to see Pau fighting for a championship ring in the Thunder’s blue uniforms next year.