Thursday, February 20, 2014
Gasol anticipating free agency
By Dave McMenamin
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After making it through a third straight trade deadline remaining a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when it appeared he might have to be packing his bags, Pau Gasol is looking forward to controlling his destiny this summer.
"It would be nice to be in that position," Gasol said Thursday. "At least for a few days. And then I'll be back in somebody else's hands."
Pau Gasol has said his desire was to remain with the Lakers, but that doesn't guarantee he'll re-sign with the team if he reaches free agency this summer.
For the first time in Gasol's 13-year career, the big man will become an unrestricted free agent when the market opens July 1. While Gasol said he "wanted" and "preferred" to finish the 2013-14 season with the Lakers, that doesn't mean he will feel the same way about the franchise beyond that.
"No grudges. No hard feelings," Gasol said of hearing his name mentioned in rumors right up until Thursday's noon PT deadline passed. "It is what it is. I'm just glad there are a lot of teams interested in me. That's a good sign. When a lot of teams knock on the door and ask for you, that means you're valuable."
Gasol, whose $19.3 million contract expires at the end of the season, said all the hubbub around him leading up to the trade deadline is an indication there will be suitors knocking on his door when free agency begins after the season.
"I'm pretty confident there will be," Gasol said.
L.A. engaged in talks with the Phoenix Suns about trading Gasol for Emeka Okafor's expiring contract but could not get the Suns to include a future first-round draft pick in the deal. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team was pursuing trades at the deadline only that made basketball sense, not arrangements based on dollars and cents.
"Quite frankly, we had an opportunity to go below the [luxury] tax threshold, but there were no basketball components," Kupchak said without offering specifics if that opportunity would have involved Gasol or other players such as Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman, who were also being shopped. "That's unacceptable with this organization. I think the expression would be a salary dump. That's not what this organization will do. If we could've gotten picks or players we feel good about going forward, then we would've done that. But we did have opportunities to go below the threshold and we wouldn't do it."
The Lakers, who extended Kobe Bryant on a two-year, $48.5 million deal earlier this season months before his contract was to expire, have not had any talks thus far with Gasol about extending him.
"It's possible," Kupchak said when asked about engaging in negotiations with Gasol before July 1. "I would categorize it as unlikely, but it's possible. We worked really hard to create [salary-cap] flexibility. Until June 30, we won't know who's a free agent and who's not a free agent. I really don't know how you do that."
Gasol, who has missed the Lakers' past seven games because of a strained right groin, said he planned to play against the Boston Celtics on Friday.
"Right now, I'm just going to focus on finishing out the year strong and healthy, trying to help our team be the best it can be and compete every single game," said Gasol, who is averaging 17.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists this season. "That's my mindset and that's going to put me in a better position in the offseason. So then, when the point hits, I'll see what I got."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni credited Gasol for how he handled all the uneasiness associated with the trade deadline.
"I think [Gasol handled it] as well as you can," D'Antoni said. "I'm sure it's upsetting a little bit, but he's always come and been present. He's been good."
Even if the Lakers do not plan to keep Gasol moving forward, they could always try to flip Gasol for another asset by convincing the 33-year-old to acquiesce to a sign-and-trade deal. Or, if they wanted to keep Gasol in the fold while still pursuing other free agents, they would be allowed to exceed the salary cap by exercising their Bird Right's on Gasol. But he would come with a massive cap hold of more than $19 million, which would eat up a huge chunk of the $22 million to $28 million in cap space L.A. expects to have this summer.
But that's down the line. For now, Gasol is just focusing on finishing out the season on a high note.
"This year's been different, and every year's a little different," Gasol said. "We're still short-handed and we have been short-handed and we'll continue to be short-handed the rest of the year. Now it’s just a matter of our spirit and our will in every game and how much it means to us."