Pau Gasol came to the Bulls on a discount of sorts two summers ago, with some teams wondering how much top-flight game he had left in his veteran body.
But after a stellar first year in Chicago and his ramping it up recently after a busy summer, there appears to be very little doubt he can still produce at a high level.
Gasol told CSNChicago.com Wednesday night after his 26-point, 19-rebound, four-block and three-assist performance against the Denver Nuggets that it’s “very likely” he’ll opt-out of his contract this summer and test the market.
“As long as I keep playing like this,” Gasol said. “I know I’ll have some options.”
Gasol, 35, signed a three-year, $22.3 million deal with the Bulls in the summer of 2014, spurning the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and to a lesser degree, the Miami Heat.
A two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol is a sure-fire Hall of Famer due to his exploits both in the NBA and internationally.
Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets will be career game No. 1,000 for Gasol and although he appeared to take things easy at the start of training camp and the preseason due to a busy summer with the Spanish National Team, his production has climbed in recent games.
“I feel pretty good right now physically,” Gasol said in the locker room after Wednesday's game. “I had to take it easier in the preseason so I started a little slower this season than I would’ve liked but because of how I played this summer I had no choice. I had to refuel somehow so I could have enough gas to make it through the entire season and still get to the end with enough and push through so I can play well in the playoffs.”
With the salary cap rising again this summer and assuming Gasol stays in relative good health, it makes sense for him to again hit free agency for a contract with long-term security and more annual money. By today’s financial standards, Gasol is underpaid for his production, ranking 23rd amongst power forwards in the NBA, according to spotrac.com.
If he were to be listed as a center, which he plays when Nikola Mirotic or Taj Gibson is on the floor, his $7.4 million average would rank 20th.
It appears both Gasol and Joakim Noah will be free agents this summer, leaving the Bulls with some choices in the frontline as they’ll try to fit the best pieces around Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. No one from the Bulls seem to have given the indication they would merely let Gasol and his production walk out of the door without a fight and a source with the front office tells CSNChicago.com they'll make a hard push to retain his services.
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Hoiberg was certainly appreciative of Gasol’s effort Wednesday night, and his presence as a whole.
“I know his teammates don’t underestimate him and that’s the important thing with Pau,” Hoiberg said. “He got us going with the start and finished the game with a couple free throws.”
Gasol is averaging 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, the last two being above his career averages. In Hoiberg’s system, his role has differed a bit than the one he played last year where he was featured more, as he averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in Tom Thibodeau’s slow-down system.
With Hoiberg wanting to play faster, a style more tailored to the wings and point guards, Gasol hasn’t been exactly marginalized but the team seems to rely on him whenever they need a big bucket.
And more times than not, he’s delivered — on both ends of the floor. He had big defensive stands against the Spurs and Nuggets, as well as thwarting LeBron James’ last-second drive on Opening Night.
“Just trying to play as well as I can for the position I’m in now,” Gasol said. “I understand things are a little different now, but as long as we win and we’re a better team, we all sacrifice a little to do the things the coaching staff wants us to do.”