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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.

Friday was a wild day for the Lakers. What started with a glimmer of hope that Carmelo Anthony might still decide to bring his talents to tinseltown, ended with the Lakers seemingly spending all their cap space on acquiring Jeremy Lin from the Rockets, re-signing Nick Young to a 4-year contract, and re-upping Jordan Hill for an additional two years (with a team option on that second season).

Not necessarily how many fans envisioned the team’s day evolving, that’s for sure.

The question isn’t what these moves bring to the Lakers, that’s really the easy part of all this. All three players are pretty proven commodities who fans should be quite familiar with. We’ll evaluate them more in time, but not now. That’s because there is a bigger question at hand: do the Lakers have one more move in them?

As mentioned above, the Lakers have seemingly used all their cap space on the aforementioned three players. In Lin ($8.37 million), Hill ($9 million), and Young (not yet known, but a 1st year salary of roughly $4.5 million is possible) the team’s nearly $22 million in cap space would be spent if all these deals were signed in the next 24 hours.

But, will they be?

If you want the Lakers to continue to be players on the free agent market, you should hope they won’t be. Because despite having commitments to those players, the Lakers can still try to do a bit more simply by using timing and various mechanics of the CBA to their advantage. The LA Times’ Eric Pincus explained this via twitter:

Okay, the difference between Hill’s cap hold and expected salary (roughly $2.3 million) and the room exception (an exception for teams who fall beneath the salary cap to sign another player above the minimum) don’t sound exciting, but they are options to sign a couple of more players who could help the team.

These aren’t the only cap gymnastics the Lakers could try, however. More from Pincus:

Pau Gasol is not going to be a Laker next year (more on this at another time), but the Lakers can still try to facilitate a sign and trade as Pincus notes. It would have to be perfectly timed and the Lakers would be limited in how much money they could bring back — they would need at least $13.5 million left of their cap space to sign Young and Hill. This isn’t much, but if a team wants to give up an asset for Pau while not sending much salary back it could be explored.

The only way for the Lakers to really up their cap space is to use the stretch provision on Steve Nash. This would turn their $2.3 million of cap space into close to $9 million in cap space. That would be enough to chase one high potential, second-tier free agent (Lance Stephenson?) or multiple mid-level free agents who could be part of the rotation. This may be far-fetched, but it is an option that still exists. And if you want the Lakers to be as good as they can be next season, you should hope that they explore all these options.

Of course, these are all just hypotheticals. And considering how quickly the Lakers moved in making the moves they did on Friday, I’d bet they are done looking. Add in that “stretching” Nash keeps money on the books beyond next summer and into years where the team is hoping to have clean books, it only adds further doubt they would take these measures. Instead, I would imagine they are destined to now fill out the roster much like they did this past year — chasing low cost players who need to rehabilitate their games and wouldn’t mind doing it on the stage the Lakers offer.

One can hope they still have one more trick up their sleeve, though. Because while I can live with what they have done to this point, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like at least one more.

Apparently, the Lakers aren’t done doing business today after trading for Jeremy Lin. According to multiple reports, the team has agreed to bring back Nick Young:

Nick Young is entertaining. And last year he proved to be a good teammate, bringing good spirit and a sense of joy to a lockerroom that desperately needed both. He also had one of, if not his best statistical seasons of his career. There is no doubt that he can play and when you combine that with his love of the game and how he can bring a fun loving nature to a team, I can understand wanting him back.

That said, I am not in love with this deal. Young is already 29 and, if the above report is true, the 4th season is a player option. Maybe a 32 year old Swaggy P decides he wants to test the market one last time before his contract expires, but that seems doubtful to me. In essence, then, the Lakers are paying Young roughly $5 million a year for the next four years. As much as an argument could be made for paying a bench scorer of his caliber this much money, his age makes it more of a gamble than, say, if he were even two years younger.

The flip side to all this, however, is that the Lakers now have another good player on a roster that desperately needs them. Young has his warts and will always have his detractors because of his shot selection and only average defensive ability, but he can impact a game offensively. If his skills on that end of the floor can be harnessed to their maximum potential while finding ways to cover up some of his limitations, he can be a very good contributor on a *contract that is not, from a pure numbers standpoint, totally okay.

If all that sounds like I am trying to sell myself on this deal. It’s because I kind of am. Young surprised me this past season however. Maybe he will do so again.

*The number on Young’s deal — roughly $5 million per year — may be seen as an overpay, but in reality is the equivalent of a mid-level exception contract. Those contracts are typically very tradable assets on the market and can make for good filler in larger deals. I am not trying to trade Young right as he inks his new deal, but it is worth noting that should it ever come to that, his contract could be useful in a variety of ways down the line. Just something to keep in mind.

Just as we figured, the LeBron James decision has started a flurry of moves around the league as teams now move on to their own plans. That includes the Lakers who have helped facilitate the Rockets’ pursuit of Chris Bosh by taking Jeremy Lin off their hands. From ESPN:

The Houston Rockets have traded guard Jeremy Lin and a future first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers, a league source told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The Lakers were amenable to this deal, according to sources, because Lin is only under contract for one more season, thus preserving their cap space next summer. They also covet draft picks, after trading away their first-round picks in 2015 and 2017 to Phoenix and Orlando as part of the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades, respectively.

If the Lakers are going to miss out on the big name free agents this summer — and with each passing minute that seems increasingly likely — they needed to move on to their Plan B and start to fill out their roster. Acquiring Lin helps in that.

Lin is the exact type of asset the Lakers have said to be pursuing this summer. He’s a good player (we will get into this later with a full analysis) and he is only signed for one more season. This allows the Lakers to preserve their cap space and financial flexibility for next summer when they can again pursue the top free agents on the market.

The sweetner here, however, is the 1st round pick the Lakers will also receive. While the Rockets are likely to be one of the top 5-10 teams next season and deliver a pick in the mid-20’s next June, that pick is much better than the one the Lakers would be slated to have should they finish outside the top 5 selections — which would be no pick at all. Now the Lakers will be armed with a pick that can be used in another trade or used to select another young player who can potentially be part of the team.

Viewing the deal through this dual prism, I am quite happy with what the Lakers have accomplished. When the Lakers talk about “financial flexibility”, this is one of the ways in which they use the term. Having money under the cap isn’t just about signing FA’s, it is about leveraging that space to absorb players and getting additional assets for their trouble. The fact that Lin can actually play, fills a position of need, and has other marketing qualities that will help the Lakers is icing on the cake.

It is about time the Lakers got creative and started to use all the assets at their disposal to improve the team in the short and the long term. Drafting Julius Randle was step one in this process. It remains to be seen what becomes of Lin as a player next year or what the pick they will receive from the Rockets produces, but the hope is that they too become pieces that improve the short and long term trajectory of the team.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  July 10, 2014

Some links and thoughts to hold you over while we wait for the free agency dominoes to fall…

  • Julius Randle remains unsigned, though is on his way to Las Vegas as part of the Lakers’ summer league team. Randle isn’t likely to suit up until he puts his name to a contract and at this point we will wait — a day, more? — for that to occur. All signs point to Randle remaining unsigned so the Lakers can preserve the extra bit of cap space that will be tacked on to his contract. Rookies generally sign for 120% of their slotted salary and every little extra bit helps. As an aside, with Randle unsigned the Lakers could still, technically, trade his rights to a different team whereas if he was signed there would be a waiting period before they could do so. I don’t believe that will happen, but it is something to keep in mind.
  • Speaking of summer league, Ben Rosales of Silver Screen & Roll has a nice breakdown of the players who will suit up for the Lakers. Get to know these guys, they should be fun to watch.
  •  While summer league will be a nice distraction, all eyes do remain on the free agent ticker. Several Lakers from last year’s team have already inked deals with other teams, for good money too. If you’re keeping score at home, Jodie Meeks got $6 million a year for 3 years from the Pistons, Chris Kaman got $10 million over 2 years from the Blazers, Jordan Farmar got $4 million over two years from the Clippers, and Steve Blake just got similar money as Farmar from the Blazers. I wish all these guys nothing but the best on their new teams. Last season they all showed they could be rotation players in the league and they will get their chances on their new rosters.
  • Of course, some would have liked the Lakers to bring back one or more of those guys. Personally, I could go either way. While all are serviceable players, none truly stood out to me last season. The closest were probably Meeks and Farmar. Meeks had an excellent season and showed growth in several areas, but when his career is over, last season’s numbers may stand as his best season. Farmar, while showing he is now a very good shooter, was also injured for half the season and didn’t quite show as much next level passing as you’d like from a starting caliber guard. Again, I like both players fine and would have welcomed them back, but losing them to another team isn’t the end of the world. Best of luck to them.
  • This is nearly two weeks old, but if you missed it, give Zach Lowe’s piece on Jason Kidd departing the Nets for the Bucks a read. The Kidd stuff is very good and worth your time on its own. But the bullet points also have a couple of Lakers’ related nuggets that speak to the team’s financial health.
  • On that note, Brian Kamenetzky wrote a very good piece on why the Lakers should be patient this off-season.
  • Lastly, Kobe Bryant is holding his annual basketball camp in Santa Barbara right now and did a press conference to open things up. He spoke on a variety of topic, but in this clip he speaks on his health noting that he feels “great…strong and crisp” and notes that he doesn’t think about his knee or his achilles when he’s training. He also talks about the way he “pitches” the Lakers as a free agent destination.