Pau Gasol Addendum No. 1: Sources say Bulls' rising interest in Pau IS indeed reflection of concern they can't convince Melo to leave NYK— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) julio 3, 2014
In a surprising twist, OKC has come on strong with Pau Gasol, and described as a "frontrunner" for the Spaniard.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) julio 2, 2014
Pau Gasol Addendum No. 2: Hearing Pau, as with OKC, indeed giving legit consideration to San Antonio if he looks at places where $ is scarce— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) julio 3, 2014
The Thunder seem to be the front-runners at this point and it makes sense. Ibaka would provide the rim protection Gasol isn't able to offer any more, but wouldn't take away post touches from Pau. The Thunder also have a trade exception worth $6.5 million, which they could use in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers. There would have to be an asset involved for Mitch Kupchak to bite, but that shouldn't be a problem. OKC has plenty of cheap, young players under contract and assets.
The other destination that keeps coming up when Gasol is mentioned is Chicago. If the Bulls can't sign Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol makes a ton of sense as a backup plan. Provided Derrick Rose is healthy as reported, the Bulls could contend with a core of Rose-Butler-Gasol-Noah. They'd need some shooters but would have one of the best big man rotations in basketball with Noah-Pau-Gibson. And Chicago has been interested in Gasol since before the trade that sent him to the Lakers.
Finally, the Knicks are also supposed to be in the mix. A Fisher-Phil Jackson-Pau reunion is the angle New York is probably pitching. If Melo re-signs, they'll have the pieces to get to the playoffs in 2014/15 and build from there with an almost clean slate, cap wise. Pau has thrived in the triangle before and he would be playing in the weaker East.
So where does that leave the Spurs? The Bulls, provided they amnesty Boozer, could offer the most money. OKC could offer a big role on a young team. The Knicks offer a sense of familiarity. San Antonio can't offer any of those things.
If Diaw comes back, the Spurs will only be able to offer Gasol the mid-level exception. They could engineer a sign-and-trade but the Lakers would have to be on board with taking in salary, at least for one year. Former PtR bossman Wayne Vore came up with a clever way to offer Gasol more, by signing and trading Matt Bonner like the Nets traded Keith Bogans to the Celtics. The Lakers would absorb Bonner at, say, $5 million along with another asset or two, and punt their cap space to the next season. But to do that, LA would have to know for sure, without a shadow of a doubt, that they have no shot at a premier free agent.
That's possible but highly unlikely. L.A. doesn't play the long game. Especially after that Kobe extension.
So it's Diaw or Pau, if he wants more than the MLE. The Spurs could hold off on signing Mills and offer around $7 million, provided they renounce all their other free agents. A Gasol-Splitter-Duncan front line is quite formidable. But the Spurs would essentially be trading Boris for Pau in that scenario. Gasol can join teams that don't give up any essential players for his services. Why join a team that has to? And Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are retiring soon. Committing to a team with such a short window at only 33-years-old and with a few rings already, doesn't make much sense.
Hitching his wagon to the Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka troika would pretty much ensure him relevance for the next few years. Adams and McGary should be able to sop up minutes once Perkins is gone, so it's not like he will have to over-extend himself. Unless that's what he wants; to be a star again. It's possible that after a couple of years clashing with Mike D'Antoni, Pau is determined to prove to everyone he's still one of the elite. If that's his motivation, then New York is the place for him to be. Fisher and Jackson will give him the post touches and the minutes. Even without Diaw in tow, he would have to compete with Duncan for possessions if he was to sign with the Spurs.
So the Spurs are not necessarily well positioned to get Gasol. Yet it's not impossible to imagine Pau bucking conventional wisdom and deciding to play in San Antonio. The way the Spurs played last season, the ease with which they won the Larry O‘Brien has to have some appeal, right? A high IQ, unselfish player like Pau surely understands that. And in the future, who knows? Maybe his brother Marc gets to take Duncan's place and along with Parker and Leonard they continue the winning tradition in south Texas.
If I was Pau, that would sound appealing to me. But probably not as appealing as other pitches. I think the Spurs have a chance to land Gasol but it's a long shot. Unfortunately, there are other, more favorable situations for him, whether he prioritizes the immediate or the medium-term future. Free agency is crazy but not as crazy as Gasol to San Antonio for the MLE. At least that's how it looks like right now. Maybe something changes in the upcoming days but I wouldn't hold my breath. The good news about potentially not getting a free agent we all want is that, if everyone is healthy next season, the defending champions should have the talent to go for the repeat, with or without a big free agent splash.