In a move that I was hopeful could happen, but had no clue how the team could actually execute, the Lakers lured Marc Gasol “back” to Los Angeles to play for the team that originally drafted him 13 years ago.
That tweet, inspired a smile so wide…it’s hard to even put into words. The Lakers have a Gasol on their team again and it just feels right. Gasol will sign a 2-year contract for the veteran minimum, paying the former defensive player of the year roughly $5.3 million over the life of his deal.
Before we get to what this signing does for the Lakers lineup, we should try to explain the machinations that made it happen. First, it’s important to know that when a player signs a minimum contract, it normally carries a cap hit for a smaller amount. It’s a type of exception that allows teams to pay a portion of the contract with the NBA picking up the rest of the bill, allowing aging and experience players a chance to stick in the league and not just be replaced by cheaper younger guys. However, this only holds true when a player signs a contract for a single season.
Because Gasol’s deal is for 2 years, the entire $2.6 million of his salary will hit the Lakers books this year. And, because the Lakers are hard capped from their signings of Wes Matthews and Montrezl Harrell, every dollar the Lakers spend must keep them below that threshold. Which means the Lakers had to make additional moves to free up some money to ensure they’d be able to sign Gasol and still have enough money left over to fill out the rest of their roster and still stay under the hard cap.
With that, the Lakers traded JaVale McGee who, right before the free agency period opened, opted into his $4.2 million salary for the upcoming season. McGee was shipped to the Cavaliers for two players — Alfonzo McKinnie and Jordan Bell, both of whom had non-guaranteed contracts for next season. As part of the trade, the Lakers will reportedly fully guarantee McKinnie’s contract for next year, but only guarantee $580K of Bell’s deal and then waive him using the stretch provision — saving additional money to stay under the hard cap, per ESPN.
With McGee off the books, McKinnie on the roster, and Bell’s small guarantee stretched and waived, the Lakers had the room to have Gasol’s full salary for the upcoming season hit their books and still give them flexibility to sign a few more players. Credit Rob Pelinka and the rest of the front office for making this work financially.
I’d also like to thank JaVale for all he did during his two seasons with the team and for all his contributions this past season in helping the Lakers win the championship. He wasn’t a perfect player, but by all accounts was a great teammate who was always invested in the success of his guys — particularly the other big men on the team. This was especially true during the playoffs where his on-court role diminished, but his presence on the bench was always spirited and celebratory. He earned his ring and while this probably isn’t the way he envisioned his time with the Lakers ending, I’m sure he’ll have a big smile on his face when his teammates present him with his hardware when he comes to Staples Center next season.
With JaVale gone, though, it will now be Gasol who mans that spot in the rotation and I’d be lying if I didn’t express excitement about the prospects of having him in the fold as the presumptive starting Center. Gasol isn’t the athlete that JaVale is and that will show up on both sides of the ball. You’re not going to see Marc catch lobs for dunk finishes, just as you’re not going to see him meet drivers at the top of square to pack a monster dunk attempt.
What you will see from Gasol, however, is a combination of smarts and skill from the pivot, high post, and top of the circle that this team hasn’t really had since his brother was rocking the #16 next to Kobe. Marc is a wonderful passer and I can’t wait to see how he gets incorporated into the Lakers elbow series of actions or how he can be used in delay sets from the top of the floor.
The prospect of Gasol playing high/low with AD or Bron, picking out cutters and shooters from the top of the floor, or running dribble handoffs where he can determine how plays advance and keep defenses off balance has me absolutely giddy. Gasol has a career average of 3.4 assists per game and that passing talent will allow the Lakers to further expand their playbook and put both Bron and AD into positions where they can start and flow through possessions from different spots on the floor.
Gasol is also a very good 3-point shooter, particularly for a big man. A career 35.4% shooter from deep, last season he shot 38.5% on 3.4 attempts per game. Over his season and a half in Toronto he hit exactly 40% of his 200 attempts from deep, offering the type of consistent range shooting that can make defenses pay when collapsing to help in the paint. When playing alongside of Bron and AD, Gasol is going to get the types of wide open looks that he can knock down, further enhancing the Lakers offense. When you add to that his wide frame when setting screens, the separation and spacing he’s going to help generate for lead ball handlers like Bron and Schröder is going to be massive.
Defensively, Gasol is no longer the über-elite defender that won the DPOY in Memphis, but he remains a fantastic defensive big whose smarts, understanding of angles, anticipation, and big frame keep him among the league’s better defensive bigs.
He’s not going to be a major force blocking shots, but he’ll rotate early to challenge and alter attempts at the basket to force misses. He understands where to be and when to be there, skills that allow your team defense to function at a high level. It’s no wonder the Toronto’s defense was 7.7 points per 100 possessions better when Gasol was on the floor vs. when he was on the bench — the best number on the team for any Raptor who played more than 150 minutes. Further, he can hold up in the post against even the best post scorers in the league, a skill that, as was proven in the post season, can still be very useful. After all, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic don’t seem to be leaving the conference anytime soon.
It should be noted, Gasol is already 35 years old and will be 36 in January. It’s very likely this contract will be his last in the NBA. He’s not going to be the impact player he once was and expecting that would be a mistake. He’s much more a cog in the machine than a front line contributor at this stage of his career. He’s also a different type of player than the Centers the Lakers had on their roster last year, so aesthetically you’re going to miss the dunks and blocks and raw physicality/athleticsm Dwight and JaVale brought.
In saying all that, I can’t help but view getting Gasol as a massive win for these Lakers. He’s a true C who can take the burden of having to defend physical bigs off of AD in the starting lineup, can play next to him and Harrell effectively on both ends of the floor, opens up many more avenues for the Lakers offense due to his shooting and passing skill, has a basketball IQ that is off the charts, is a great teammate, is competitive as hell, and has championship experience. He’s exactly the type of player anyone would want on their team and the Lakers just got him for the minimum. I mean, WHAT? Just a tremendous get for this team.
So, welcome back Marc. Give Pau a hug for us.