And with that simple announcement, Pau Gasol is a Laker no more. It is fitting that the man from Spain, where this happens yearly, has decided to join the Bulls.
In reality, we have known for some time that this day was coming. On his own website, after the season, Pau said that money would not matter as much as the chance to compete for and win championships. While the Lakers could offer the cash they cannot offer the high level team needed to advance deep into the playoffs. Gasol knows this just as well as we do and while his decision was surely difficult, you have to imagine this fact proved to be the tipping point.
As for whether or not the Lakers will get one last parting gift from Pau via trading him to Chicago, that seems unlikely.
Once acquired for expiring contracts, unproven talent, and draft picks while also being the key player who was to net the Lakers Chris Paul, Gasol now parts the team on his own terms and leaves them empty handed. The circle of NBA life is funny that way.
While the latter stages of Gasol’s time with the Lakers was somewhat tarnished by trade rumors and having his role jerked around, he will forever be remembered by me as a true warrior who gave his all to the organization to help it reach the top of the mountain. The Lakers don’t win their 2009 and 2010 championships without the Spaniard’s overall brilliance, without him being the inside foundation to complement Kobe’s wizardry from the wing. That duo formed one of the league’s best tandems, torturing opponents with diverse and immense skill and iron willed determination that spearheaded three straight trips to the finals and back to back championships.
Just as Kobe and Pau’s skills meshed masterfully, so did their personalities. Pau, by default is an introspective, and even polite, person. His more calm and patient demeanor played off Kobe’s more outwardly fiery personality perfectly and allowed them (along with Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom) to provide a full scope of leadership that those teams needed. They also, of course, found a perfect partnership in the most simple thing of all: a shared love of the game. During time on the bench or at glimpses behind the scenes, you would often see those two going over strategy and planning how to dissect a defense in order to get a key basket. And while there were times that Kobe could be hard on Pau publicly (his “big boy pants” comment comes to mind) these two were mostly on the same page, speaking the same language of winning basketball players.
Those days are over now, though. Fisher and Phil have long been gone. Odom too. Role players like Ariza and Ron, Farmar and the Machine came and went. But there was always Pau. But now he is a Bull.
And while Kobe will have new teammates, in a way he is now alone.
I, for one, will still root for Gasol and wish him nothing but success. The memories he brought me are simply too good for me to ever think of him negatively. I will always remember his chemistry with Kobe, how he instantly connected with Odom, how he took to the Triangle like a fish to water, and how he always seemed to take everything in stride like a true professional. Yes, he spoke his mind and could needle people in the press with the best of them, but even in these times he spoke with an elegance and grace and calm knowing that was respectful and measured.
I am sure he will do the same in Chicago. And will be watching from afar hoping he brings their fans some of the same joy he brought me.