Aside from the state of Steve Nash's ankle, the big headline generated from Thursday's 104-86 loss to the Shaqamento Kings had nothing to do with the game itself, nor even the season in general. It was all about the future, and whether Pau Gasol would accept a “significant pay cut” in order to stay with the Lakers after his contract expires this summer. Ironic, considering his last three seasons with the Lakers were exceptionally turbulent, and had Dwight Howard remained in L.A., he'd have almost certainly been dealt. But Gasol's still here, and similar to Kobe Bryant, the question of what it'll take for him to retire a Laker is being considered.
He still remains with the Lakers entering the final year of his contract and will make $19.3 million with another chance to prolong his stay with the franchise he loves.
“If I perform well, am reliable and put up a great season, then I’m sure the Lakers will have interest in extending me maybe before the season is over,” Gasol said. “We’ll see if there’s interest or not. Then we’ll go from there.”
The Lakers only have three players under contract beyond next season, including Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young. That leaves the Lakers with plenty of purchasing power to attract high-profile free agents, possibly including LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Of course, the Lakers also want to resign Kobe Bryant, whose $30.5 million contract expires after this season.
In the interest of the Lakers maximizing their financial flexibility, would Gasol accept taking a significant paycut?
“Probably not,” he said. “You have to explore your options, but I would like to continue to play for the Lakers and maybe finish my career here. But you have to see the cards on the table.”
It's a standard question asked of any player in Gasol's position, but in my opinion, the mere notion of whether Pau would “accept” a “significant” pay cut misses the point. Assuming Pau wants to remain in the NBA next season — perhaps not a given, since he could very realistically hang up his sneaks and become a doctor — dude's taking a pay cut.
Period. End of story. There is no “yeah, but…”
I don't care if Pau's 2014 campaign matches or even laps his best years as a Laker. I don't care if he outplays LeBron James. The guy will be 34 with a recent, rampant string of injuries in a league increasingly more dependent on speed and athleticism rather than size. No General Manager with an ounce of sanity will give Gasol even close to his current $19 million salary, much less for multiple seasons. Truth be told, many teams won't have the cap space to make that offer in the first place, but that aside, it's a terrible investment. And I say this as someone who considers Pau still a very good, very useful NBA big and an even better teammate and person. You cannot give any player at this stage of his career anywhere in the neighborhood of $19 million. Everybody knows this, including Gasol.
Thus, Pau's future salary is basically guaranteed to constitute a “significant” pay cut for anybody with a reasonable definition of “significant.” Let's say it was a 25 percent lower, which I imagine most people would consider “significant” were it their own salary. That leaves Gasol with a yearly income between $14-15 million, and I'm guessing that figure is still north of what he'll actually make. Slash his salary by a third and Pau's looking at a little under $13 million, and I'm not even convinced he'll command that much dough. So unless you only consider a “significant” pay cut something the lines of a veteran's minimum or the mid-level exception (which is probably closer to “drastic” than “significant,” but it's all semantics anyway), it's safe to assume that Pau will ultimately end up doing what he just said he won't.
And again, do you really think Gasol, perhaps the smartest person in the NBA — and I'm including front office types and the media that covers the league — doesn't know this?
Of course he does, but like any person with half a brain and a shred of business sense, he's not going to publicly undercut his next contract negotiations. Yes, any openness expressed in October towards a pay cut doesn't constitute a binding blood oath come July, but there's no reason to put yourself in the position to come off as a future liar. Even if Pau is actually dead set on remaining a Laker come hell or high water, salary be damned, it would be moronic to let Jim Buss know before numbers are discussed. With that in mind, to pretend like Pau's statement “means” anything is absurd.
The real question eventually at hand is whether Pau would take a theoretical “hometown discount” to stay in L.A. (as opposed to simply the inevitable discount regardless of where he plays). Thus far, not so much, which will naturally prompt some to question his loyalty or priorities. I've already heard from a Tweep who believes Pau “owes” the Lakers a discount after failing last season to play to the level of his salary.
If I may, this argument is a load of crap. To be even more clear, Pau owes the Lakers jack.
Was he overpaid last season? Yes. And he'll likely go down as somewhat overpaid for the entirety of his extension. But we're not talking about Greg Oden, a guy made millions while often literally doing nothing on the court. Last season, Pau averaged nearly 14 points and nine rebounds, plus four assists, which are hardly scrub stats. And in 2012, when his extension officially kicked in, he averaged a double-double with a PER in the 20s. Gasol has nothing to apologize for, especially when you consider how his numbers also suffered in part due to coaches forcing him outside of his strengths to placate Andrew Bynum and then Howard. All the while, the front office continued to screw with his head regarding his future.
Scattered incidents of passive-aggressiveness notwithstanding, Gasol reacted by remaining unfailingly professional.
That's “loyalty,” for those keeping score, so let's call it even when it comes to any “debts” owed.
Besides, Pau might not even be able to offer the Lakers a honey deal, because there's always a chance they may trade him at some point this season, another reason he's entitled to look out for himself. Granted, I don't picture Gasol jumping at the highest offer, no questions asked. He's made puh-lenty of cash since entering the league, so I doubt he latches on with the Bobcats for a few extra bucks. In that scenario, I absolutely think it's possible Pau would leave some money on the table to stay. He loves being a Laker. He loves Los Angeles. I've gotten no impression he's in any hurry to relocate, especially if the Lakers move in the right direction. But should more lucrative offers from high-end teams present themselves, I don't think it's impossible Gasol would bite, nor do I think any sensible person would blame him.
In any event, we're a long way from having to worry about this, which is why I find the whole subject pretty silly. But since the cat has left the bag, I thought it was worth weighing in.