Monday is the deadline for Chicago Bulls forward Pau Gasol to decline his $7.7 million player option for the 2016-17 season. If Gasol declines the option like he’s expected to do so, the soon-to-be 36-year-old Spaniard will have no shortage of suitors across the league after posting 16.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game in 2015-16.
According to the Chicago Tribune, one of the heaviest suitors for Pau will be the New York Knicks and Gasol’s former head coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, Phil Jackson. Jackson currently serves as the president of the Knicks and is desperately trying to rebuild the team’s roster in order to create a playoff contender.
By dealing Robin Lopez, look for Knicks to possibly pursue Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard in free agency.
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) June 22, 2016
Jackson is seeking a center after trading Robin Lopez as part of the package for last week’s trade with the Bulls involving point guard Derrick Rose. Gasol and Jackson spent parts of four seasons together with the Lakers, going to three NBA Finals and winning two Larry O’Brien trophies in 2009 and 2010. Pau also made three All-Star teams in those four seasons with Jackson and the Lakers.
With Rose in tow, the Knicks could suddenly look like an attractive option to Pau. He will likely be seeking one more solid payday while also attempting to join a contending team. The Knicks now have three potential stars with Rose, Carmelo Anthony, and Kristaps Porzingis, although two are on the back end of their careers. If Pau were to sign with New York, there would be more than enough talent on the roster to contend in the East.
Another benefit of pursuing Gasol from the Knicks’ perspective is the idea that Pau would be the perfect mentor for Porzingis. Gasol and Porzingis have similar games and hail from a European country, and Gasol could have a lot to offer the 20-year-old Latvian. Receiving that type of mentorship this early in his career could have a profound impact on Porzingis, and the Knicks organization for years to come.
Pau Gasol won’t have any shortage of suitors once free agency begins on July 1. It’s already been reported that the San Antonio Spurs, and possibly the Los Angeles Lakers, will be targeting the seven-foot six-time All-Star. With the shortage of starting-caliber centers around the NBA, it’s likely that more potential options will come to light over the next week as NBA free agency kicks off.
Expect Pau to make a decision rather quickly once the free agency period opens, as he announced over the past weekend that he would be playing for Spain in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Games kick off on August 5, and Gasol would likely want to have a new team prior to heading to Brazil.
Looking forward to playing at #Rio2016 and giving all we’ve got with the team.
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) June 25, 2016
Deciding to play in the Olympics was a change-of-heart for Pau. A few weeks ago, Gasol wasn’t going to play for his country because of concerns with the Zika virus.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see some athletes deciding not to participate in the games to avoid putting their health and the health of their families at risk,” Gasol told the Associated Press.
“We need to understand the seriousness of the situation,” Gasol said to the AP. “Even though there are some soothing words being said, we know that there are different opinions about the subject.”
When announcing his desire to play for Spain, Pau said that ultimately representing his country meant more to him than the potential risks of the mosquito-borne virus.
“My commitment to the national team is greater than my fears over what might happen,” Gasol wrote Saturday in the Spanish newspaper Marca. “My feelings of passion and responsibility toward my national team, my sport and my teammates are huge. They have always been and always will be. My first instinct in that sense has always been to want to be with the national team each summer.”
Let’s all hope that the potential risks for Pau Gasol, and all the athletes in Rio, end up being minimal or nonexistent.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]