From the sound of things, the Lakers and Marc Gasol were both ready to go their separate ways.
For weeks, it’s been pretty obvious that the Lakers and Marc Gasol would not reunite for another season together, despite the latter being under contract for one more year. NBA insider Marc Stein has been reporting for weeks that Gasol was “not a lock” to return, and that the team was looking at other options at center, a search that ultimately ended with them signing DeAndre Jordan.
And sure enough, after Jordan was officially signed on Thursday, the Lakers — in a Friday news dump so predictable that Anthony and I basically guaranteed it would happen on our last podcast — traded Gasol to the Memphis Grizzlies, essentially dumping his salary to save some money on luxury taxes and free up an extra roster spot.
In the aftermath, though, there were a few reports that suggested things didn’t have to go this way. Bill Oram of The Athletic reported that an anonymous Lakers staffer told him recently that the team did think Gasol could have utility for them, if he wanted to return to Los Angeles:
I don’t know. Maybe, just maybe, this is a lesson that you shouldn’t always chase the shiny new thing. Marc Gasol is a floor-spacing big the Lakers could use in lineups with Russell Westbrook. As a team source said during the recent standoff with Gasol, “He could really help us.”
— Bill Oram (@billoram) September 10, 2021
However, Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register reported that the team was apparently not receiving any indication that Gasol had interest in wearing purple and gold again:
Following the DeAndre Jordan acquisition, writing was on the wall for Marc. One characterization I heard last week was the Lakers were waiting for a sign that Gasol was invested and excited to play another season with them. They were linked to Jordan soon after.
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) September 10, 2021
As a result, it appears that they found the best solution for both parties, allowing Gasol to retire a Grizzly while getting an extra roster spot for a player that does actually want to be on their team.
And as our own Nicole Ganglani highlighted this morning — and Oram pointed out in the thread above — Gasol’s reasoning for not wanting to head back to L.A. is pretty understandable. The Lakers’ pursuit of Andre Drummond was a defensible gamble, but it’s also not difficult to see why the ensuing demotion may have offended a veteran of Gasol’s stature, even if he continued to say the right things.
All of that is well-tread ground, though, and ignores the more notable aspect of this reporting: That this wasn’t some situation where the Lakers just didn’t think they could have any use for Gasol. Their actions — openly shopping him in salary dumps, ultimately dealing him, and signing Jordan — all suggest that they didn’t see Gasol as some pillar of their rotation, but this reporting does indicate that the Lakers do think they could have had use for an insurance big man, or change of pace floor-spacing 5, to bolster a roster that currently only features two other centers besides Anthony Davis, both of whom (Howard, 35, and Jordan, 33) probably can’t be relied upon to play every night at this stage of their careers.
While that doesn’t ultimately matter given that their relationship with Gasol was apparently beyond salvaging, it does make some of the criticism of this trade slightly moot. This wasn’t a situation where the Lakers just didn’t recognize that Gasol can still contribute to winning basketball. It was just that their previous handling of him left him preferring retirement to playing for them again.
So while there are certainly valid criticisms to be had of how they got here, the fact that Gasol would rather just not play in the NBA anymore than return to Los Angeles left trading him as the only real option if the organization didn’t want to get hit with a mammoth tax bill for a player who wouldn’t even suit up for them (retired players still count against the cap). Giving up a second round pick to dump a center they no longer prioritized to sign a new one two summers in a row now is far from ideal asset management, but it was pretty much their only recourse at this point.
At least now the Lakers made the best of a bad situation — albeit one their own actions created — and generated an open roster spot, and have the lessons of last season to remind them that retaining a player who doesn’t want to be there or isn’t happy with their role isn’t worth the headache. For better or worse, that issue seems to be over now.