Which NBA Team Benefits most from Playing in Orlando
Pau Gasol is nearing the end of his playing career. While the veteran big man signed with the Portland Trail Blazers last summer, he didn’t play a game for his new team due to a stress fracture in his left foot. He was waived early in the season and hasn’t caught on with a new team since. At 39 years old, there is no guarantee that he ever will, but in an interview with Tales Azzoni of The Associated Press, he listed two teams as his preferred destinations if he does play again: The Los Angeles Lakers and Barcelona.
“My intention is to play another season if the foot is OK, either in the NBA or in Europe,” he said. “A final season with the Lakers is attractive, finishing at Barca is attractive, but you have to see the real possibilities and see what situation would be best for the circumstances of the moment.”
Gasol has strong sentimental ties to both teams. He is best known for winning two championships alongside Kobe Bryant as a Laker, but he started his professional career with Barcelona and is widely considered the greatest Spanish basketball player of all time. Former Spanish National Team teammate Nikola Mirotic currently plays for Barcelona, while his former Laker teammate Dwight Howard is back in Los Angeles.
Landing a spot on the Lakers’ roster next season could prove difficult. Frank Vogel prefers his centers to be defensive-oriented and capable of catching lobs out of the pick-and-roll. That isn’t remotely Gasol’s game, but both Howard and JaVale McGee can become free agents this offseason. Considering their limited financial flexibility, the Lakers may be interested in Gasol as cheap depth, especially if they lose one or both of their current centers. That he developed a decent 3-point shot in San Antonio only helps his case.
If Gasol wants to finish his career with Barcelona, it is unlikely that he would encounter any resistance from the team. Gasol is so revered in his home country of Spain that he was chosen as its flag bearer at the 2012 Olympics. Even if he were relegated to a bench role, merely having Gasol on the team would make economic sense for Barcelona. Assuming tickets can be sold in time for next season, fans would pay up to see Gasol one last time.
There is a third team with which Gasol could appropriately end his career. Assuming the Olympics are held in 2021 as planned, Gasol could make one last run at a gold medal with the Spanish National Team before calling it a career. He has won silver twice, and while Team USA wasn’t its normal dominant self at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Spain did manage to win that tournament without him.
Gasol is destined for the Hall of Fame whenever he decides to retire, but if he is capable of playing one last year, he’ll fear few objections from fans in Spain or Los Angeles. A player of his caliber deserves a better ending than the one he is currently living out.