Pau Gasol should and will go down as one of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers players of this generation, but on Friday it became apparent that the trying marriage between the two sides is all but over. At this point, the Lakers getting out with any sort of compensation would be a huge get—a possibility should Gasol land at one of his preferred destinations, the Chicago Bulls.
The Lakers have made it clear of their intentions to have Gasol return as a major piece of a revamped, championship-contending roster early on in free agency. But per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, he declined an offer on Friday:
LA entered free agency with the dream of bringing in prized free agent Carmelo Anthony, and that made Gasol the perceived third wheel of a Big Three consisting of him, Anthony and Kobe Bryant.
But ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported via SportsCenter on Friday afternoon that Melo ruled the Lakers out of the running and began focusing solely on a return to New York or joining forces with Derrick Rose in Chicago.
No Anthony and no Gasol means that Friday was the day in which the Lakers' plans entering 2014-15 changed from chasing a championship to the inevitable rebuild. Bryant will never admit to it, but the roster surrounding him heading into his 19th NBA season is far from championship-contending, if even playoff-contending in the brutal West.
And with Gasol spurning his former team, suitors are lining up at the door—most notably the Bulls, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
Although he's an unrestricted free agent and can thus sign anywhere he chooses, a sign-and-trade is still possible for the Lakers to get something—anything—out of parting ways with their true franchise big man of the post-Shaquille O'Neal era.
If Chicago ends up making the deal, the Bulls may be interested in a sign-and-trade to relieve some cap space for the arrival of Gasol. And desperate to do so, they would have to fork over other assets to woo the Lakers.
Among them could be mega-cap hit Carlos Boozer, who has been talked about in discussions before, according to Stein:
Of course, any sign-and-trade involving Boozer would be complicated with the heap of deals the Lakers have going on. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reported the Lakers will take on Jeremy Lin's contract after trading for the former Rockets point guard. Just as well, Nick Young and Jordan Hill reportedly re-signed in expensive deals, per Bresnahan.
Even Wojnarowski said that the likelihood is low:
Boozer's expensive contract may make a deal impossible, but the Lakers would benefit from making it work. The assets would very likely be draft picks that LA could use to either rebuild or stockpile for a big trade.
That would be well worth the inconvenience of taking on Boozer's contract—a player who makes more than he's worth but can still average 15 and 10. His role has been diminished with Chicago, but the 32-year-old would immediately rival Hill as the best big man on the roster.
Of course, it goes without saying that this deal would be picture-perfect for Gasol as he winds down his career.
The Spaniard's refined offensive game would be well-received in Chicago. Traditional basketball aficionados would have a field day dissecting Gasol and Joakim Noah playing alongside each other in the post—maybe the two most unselfish post players in the NBA.
For once in his long tenure with the Lakers, Gasol now decides where he ends up—not the Lakers front office. And he's made it clear that his intentions are to play for a much more serious contender than LA is shaping up to be.
The Lakers might not have the ability to make a sign-and-trade if it means taking on Boozer's contract, but any possibility should be explored for LA as the franchise looks to build as many assets as possible for an inevitable rebuild.