This summer, Pau Gasol has three doors staring him straight in the face, each one leading to a different future, and each one dictating a different ending for how he’ll spend the rest of his career as a meaningful basketball player.
1) He leaves L.A. behind and becomes the same player he was in 2010, ridding himself of all the name-calling, unjust third-option placement, and total lack of respect that’s bogged him down these last two seasons.
2) He leaves L.A. and brings all the baggage with him, roaming around the perimeter, showing up for some games and disappearing in others, and looking more like a second or third option than a franchise player.
3) He stays in Southern California and continues to disintegrate beside Kobe Bryant.
That’s it right there. Those are the three roads. If it comes down to the first two options and you’re the Rockets, there’s quite a gamble in not knowing which door he ends up walking through. At this point they’ll need to ask themselves: is it even worth the risk?
After yet another postseason in which his overall play went from disengaged to pitiful to brilliant to bland, Gasol now finds himself on the trading block for a second straight summer, only this time, the chances of David Stern disallowing a blockbuster transaction are slim to nil.
Depending on who you are, and which you believe to be true, evaluating playoff performance can either be futile or revealing. Sometimes, it can be both. Futile in the sense that there’s an incredibly small sample size. So, for example, O.J. Mayo had a terrible seven-game series against the Clippers. He couldn’t knock anything down to the point where his coach was forced to play Gilbert Arenas in the fourth quarter of Game 7. But throughout the season Mayo was one of Memphis’ better offensive weapons, a cliched spark off the bench. If you think evaluating seven games is futile you might be right. But on the other hand, if you think the reason Mayo didn’t perform up to his standard was some intangible reason—playoff pressure, maybe?—then his poor play revealed something quite significant. It’s a difficult line to straddle, and Pau Gasol’s situation is the most significant of all those who appear to be on the market.
Just going on a gut reaction, as a fan of the Houston Rockets, do you even want Pau Gasol? Forget about what you’d have to give up in a trade. Fundamentally speaking, do you trust him? After watching Gasol sleep walk through much of the first round, then fail to capitalize on what should’ve been an individual advantage against the Thunder, is this the star you want Morey to build the next two years around? Do you think he’s on the decline or in simple need of some greener grass?
Back to the real world. In order to acquire Gasol, just to open up talks the Rockets would have to part ways with Kyle Lowry and a first round draft pick. The Lakers don’t want anything to do with long, expensive contracts, so Luis Scola is staying put. What they need is another wing player who can shoot three-pointers and spread things out for Andrew Bynum (should they choose to keep him). Cue, Kevin Martin. If a trade like this goes down, re-signing Goran Dragic is obviously vital, and then there are so many other issues to take care of.
Turning 32-years-old in July, due a little under $40 million over the next two years, Pau Gasol is a vastly overpaid player. That contract combined with Scola (owed $9.4 million next season but can still be amnestied), and Dragic—who stands to make between $8-10 million on the open market next year—hopefully leaves Houston with enough flexibility to re-sign Courtney Lee. There’s your foundation. Gasol at center, Dragic running point, and a few developing pieces (Parsons, Budinger, Patterson, Lee) that could see their level of play elevated in a stable environment, with a supremely talented big man opening everything up on the offensive end. That is, if Gasol can become a dependable first option.
He hasn’t been “the guy” in quite some time, and when he was, in Memphis, he sported a playoff game record of 0-12 over three unmoving years. Trading for any player is a calculated risk, even one as talented as Pau Gasol.