Yes, the Bulls have more immediate problems. Half the roster is crumbling under a combination of bad luck and medical negligence, real doubt is creeping in about the competency of the new coach and, oh yeah, the team has lost nine of its last 12. The glass ceiling on this team was apparent from the start of the season, but the current slide is framing just how deep rooted the Bulls' issues really are.
This thing isn't getting fixed this season, and that puts a lot of pressure on management to ace what's looking like an incredibly important offseason. Well, I have some bad news for you:
ICYMI: @WindhorstESPN told us re-signing Pau is a #Bulls priority. And to a contract that could be worth worth 20mil a yr. He floored me.— Silvy (@WaddleandSilvy) February 10, 2016
This corroborates an earlier report from ESPN's Marc Stein that also said the Bulls are hoping to keep Gasol. At this point, there's reason to believe it's true.
Blog-a-Bull has already covered the ramifications of what re-signing Pau would mean. Basically: if Gasol gets more than $13 million per year, the Bulls would have to re-sign him with their own cap space rather than his Bird Rights. The Bulls are projected to have $22 million in cap room this summer, so the team's free agency would start and stop at re-signing Gasol.
In a way, it's easy to see why the Bulls want to do this. This franchise values nothing more than a good bargain, and Pau did agree to come here for an under-market price of $7 million per season. All he's done since then is make two All-Star teams and be named Second Team All-NBA.
As you know, Gasol's per-game stats are great. He's averaging 17 points and 10.9 rebounds with a 22.34 PER and a defensive RPM score that rates him as one of the 10 best defenders in the league this season.
But there's a lot those stats don't cover. In the humble opinion of this blogger, re-signing Gasol would be a terrible mistake for the Bulls and would offer definitive proof this front office has no idea what it's doing. With regards to Kevin Ferrigan and THJ, it really shouldn't be that hard to see why the Bulls need to let Gasol walk.
1. Pau can't defend in space
If you can't move your feet in the modern NBA, the game is going to pass you by very quickly. Look at the swift downfall of David Lee, the recent Greg Monroe trade rumors or the ensuing Vine every time the Warriors put Kevin Love in a pick-and-roll. The league is simply getting too small, too fast and too skilled for a 36-year-old version of Gasol to make an impact on both ends of the floor.
Yes, the Bulls have always needed offense and Gasol can still give them the scoring punch they've long lacked. But at what cost?
This is the Era Of No Weak Links in the NBA, and the Warriors don’t have anyone in their top 6 with major weaknesses.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) January 19, 2016
It's hard to imagine a team winning in the playoffs by starting Pau Gasol and playing him 32 minutes per game, as the Bulls are doing this season. He's still good enough to make a killing against second units, but ...
2. Pau's priorities are a drain on the organization
Everyone values different things, and perhaps it is admirable that Gasol did not value money in his last contract. It makes sense -- he has already made $163 million playing this game. At this stage of his career, other things are more important to him. Those things, I think, are culture (the opera!) and getting his.
We've speculated on a handshake agreement between Gasol and the front office that guaranteed a starting spot when he signed his contract. There's been quite a bit of proof that's true, from Zach Lowe's report that the Bulls never considered moving Gasol to the bench because he "might check out, or lose confidence, if they demote him" to this tidbit from ESPN's Baxter Holmes from Gasol's LA days:
Kobe reflects on the summer when Pau Gasol was determined to leave the Lakers: https://t.co/ISVBOsQ3U4 pic.twitter.com/wD8AaDZeOP— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) January 29, 2016
Understandably, Gasol is a prideful guy. He's earned that right with two championship rings and a Hall of Fame resume, but is that really something the Bulls want to deal with as Gasol enters the twilight of his career? I'll kick it to my dude Jonanthan Tjarks for that.
If Pau opts out of his contract in the off-season, how many teams are really lining up to give big money to him, especially if he refuses to come off the bench?
- I can't believe the Bulls are letting him get away with (an agreement to start) because what type of message does that send to the rest of the team? We're going to let one guy's personal agenda fuck up everyone else's money because we aren't going to maximize the best interests of the team in order to placate his ego? It's no wonder the mood around the team is so unsettled these days. The one thing about NBA players it that you can't shit a shitter and they know good and well who the best players on the team are and what combinations of players should be out on the floor. It's not rocket science.
The front office really isn't even letting Hoiberg do his job if there's a mandate that Pau must start. It made a lot of sense to start Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah with Gasol punishing second units off the bench, but there's reason to believe that was never an option.
Like Jon said: if you're putting one player ahead of the team, your team is doomed from the start. Look at how much veterans like David Lee and Andre Iguodala had to sacrifice for the Warriors last year. Lee was two seasons removed from being an All-Star and was the highest paid player on the team, but didn't throw a fit when it became apparent Draymond Green made the team better. Iguodala is a better player than Harrison Barnes and I'm sure he knows that, but he agreed to come off the bench because Golden State's second unit needed his ball handling and playmaking ability.
Coaches talk a lot about sacrificing for the team. Joakim Noah did it this season when he came off the bench even though he was in a contract year. Gasol wouldn't. Pau is a great guy and real role model by all accounts, but let's not confuse personal kindness with being a good teammate.
3. The Bulls have too many other needs
- A starting-caliber wing that can make threes and doesn't need the ball in his hands. I would suggest using the cap space to try to pry away an RFA like Evan Fournier or Allen Crabbe.
- A rim protecting center. Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic is a good start to the front court. The Bulls need one more defense-first big man. Maybe Joakim Noah?
- A point guard who can play alongside or behind Rose. Ideally someone who can hit a three and has the ability to defend the pick-and-roll.