In terms of San Antonio's free agency, Pau Gasol's name has been circulated largely as a Plan B if (when?) the Spurs can't convince Kevin Durant to come to South Texas. His multifacted offensive game, international background, and expressed desire to join an organization like the Spurs all make for a strong case for solid team-player fit. But Gasol might actually make more sense as the team's contingency plan in case Tim Duncan, who picked up his player option on Tuesday, still decides to retire.
Let's start here: a 35-year-old Gasol can't spell a 40-year-old Duncan defensively. He's about as (im-)mobile as the Spurs big man is these days, but he lacks Timmy's peerless instincts and timing as both an on- and off-ball presence. Still, he's perhaps underrated as a rim defender despite his usual two blocks per game, and he boasts a decent opponent's field-goal percentage. By most measures, the 2015-16 Chicago defense was better with him on the floor, but that may also have to do with their alternative options, along with Joakim Noah's injury-shortened season.
Critics will point to his matador-like defense on switches, and embittered Bulls fans have clips like the below to show what happened as Gasol appeared ready to move on from his time in Chicago.
I must say. This was brilliant defense by Pau. pic.twitter.com/Z3RmOJAaKM— Pizza's Intellect (@NekiasNBA) April 8, 2016
He won't be able to slide over and help like Tim can, but Gasol can be expected to be more engaged in San Antonio than he was in his final weeks on an underperforming Bulls team (and, really, a defense that has depended on Timmy as an anchor for two decades is going to need to adjust, no matter what). Luckily, Gasol wouldn't be joining the Spurs based on his defensive prowess.
On the other end of the floor, Gasol would be a major boon. Along with his 11 boards a game, he averaged 16.5 points and over four assists last season. He could slide into the starting center position and make the Spurs attack considerably more dynamic. For starters, compare Pau's shot chart from last year...
It's easy to see how Gasol's presence could be a tide that lifts all the boats around him. His shooting will force defenses to play him up to the three-point line, which will open things up for Parker on the pick-and-roll, along with the elite mid-range games of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. He's also a terrific passer who will keep the ball moving and shouldn't take much time to integrate into the Spurs' system. In a number of ways, the two-time NBA champion makes sense in silver and black.
The issue is that the Spurs have limited cap room ($12-ish million) and a real need for a two-way big man they can play alongside LaMarcus Aldridge deep in the postseason. Boris Diaw was meant to be the trump card against the Warriors, but we never saw that take place (and many now doubt if Bobo could still be that guy). Bringing Gasol in to replace Duncan leaves room to target someone else who can potentially fulfill that role. The list of available free agents is narrowing with each Woj Bomb, but many guys (including Pau) still seem to be waiting for Kevin Durant's size 18 shoe to drop.
If Duncan stays, though? The Spurs likely couldn't play the two together for long stretches of time -- and perhaps neither against a team like Golden State. That's not a minor adjustment for a team to make in the playoffs when continuity and execution pay off.
That would lead me to want to see PATFO pursue a more versatile option to shore up the frontcourt. Jesus Gomez threw out names like Tyler Zeller and Donatas Motiejunas a few days ago, and I would not mind at all seeing Celtics free agent Amir Johnson in a Spurs jersey. Teams are paying a lot of money for bigs like these (and more flawed ones) right now, but it's possible the right player will fall through the cracks and come to San Antonio on a friendly contract.
Amid all the chaos over the last few days, the Spurs have been their typically quiet selves, allowing Kevin Durant's pivotal decision to clear the way for their next course of action. Tim Duncan's will also be a factor, and it should definitely affect how San Antonio builds its next title-contending roster.