After looking at free-agent destinations for Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, it's Marc Gasol's turn to take the podium.
Unlike VanVleet and Ibaka, it's hard to imagine Gasol getting a big offer this offseason. A 35-year-old centre coming off of an injury-riddled season in which he has been sidelined twice for extended periods of time, you can understand why teams would be hesitant to offer Gasol anything close to what he is currently making, especially given how little we know of how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the NBA's salary cap moving forward.
However, Gasol has proven this season that he still has a lot to offer. He's still more than capable of anchoring a championship-level defence - our Sergio Rabinal detailed how he's been the key to the Raptors building a strong defence without Kawhi Leonard this season - and he's still one of the best passers and shooters at the centre position. He might not be capable of playing 30-plus minutes per game anymore, but his days of making an impact on a winning team are far from over provided he's in the right situation.
So what is that situation? Other than the Toronto Raptors, who I would assume are the front-runners to be Gasol's team of choice in free agency for reasons we can get into another day, there are a few teams that come to mind, the first being...
Golden State Warriors
A lot of what I wrote about the Warriors being an option for Ibaka applies to Gasol.
The short and sweet version: Golden State has little-to-no money to spend this offseason but will likely be on the market for a centre unless it picks up one of James Wiseman, Onyeka Okongwu or Obi Toppin in the 2020 NBA Draft.
If Gasol is looking for one last opportunity to start on a team that has an opportunity to win a title, he could do much worse than team up with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in San Francisco. He'd complement the three of them like a dream on offence with his ability to space the floor out to the 3-point line and serve as a hub on offence.
You know how the Raptors score more points off of screens and cuts than pretty much every team in the league? Imagine them doing this, only with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson playing the roles of Fred VanVleet and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson:
While the Warriors already have a big who can make those sorts of passes in Green, I don't think Steve Kerr will ever complain about having too many passers.
Gasol would fit in just as well defensively, giving the Warriors a legitimate anchor who can take pressure off of Green. He might not close as many games for them as he does for the Raptors - I have a hard time believing we've seen the last of Draymond-at-centre lineups - but that might suit him best at this point of his career. He'd essentially be this team's version of Andrew Bogut, a scary thought considering Gasol is far more well-rounded than Bogut.
As is the case with Ibaka, the Warriors are only really an option for Gasol if he's willing to take a pay cut. It's impossible to know what kind of contract he will be looking for this offseason, but I'm guessing he's more likely to sign for however much the Warriors will be able to offer this offseason based on where he is in his career, making them a more realistic option for him than Ibaka.
Like the Warriors, the Clippers probably aren't an option unless Gasol is willing to take a significant pay cut, but they would be able to offer him an opportunity to compete for another championship, likely as their starting centre.
The Clippers already have Ivica Zubac at centre, as well as Montrezl Harrell off the bench, but Gasol brings something neither of them do on offence - 3-point shooting - while being an upgrade over both of them on defence.
Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are already difficult to score against. Add Gasol to the mix, and the Clippers would be able to build lineups around four of the best defenders at their respective positions. Gasol's ability to guard bruising centres would come in handy in the playoffs when the Clippers could face some combination of Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid in their pursuit of a championship, not to mention the likes of Bam Adebayo, Steven Adams, Jonas Valanciunas and Deandre Ayton.
It helps that Gasol has played next to Leonard before. Granted, their time together was short-lived - 26 regular-season games and one playoff run that culminated in a championship - but Gasol proved he can complement Leonard well on both ends of the court. There would be little-to-no adjustment period, made all the easier by Gasol no longer being the high usage player he once was.
The Clippers would have an even greater need for Gasol if Harrell leaves as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
The Celtics have been a popular free agent and trade destination for any starting calibre centre since Al Horford left the franchise for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Why? It's the one position they could use a boost.
That's no disrespect to Daniel Theis, who is having the best season of his career, and Robert Williams, who has shown some promise since the Celtics selected him with the 27th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
There are just questions as to how equipped the Celtics are to defend the best centres in the league come playoff time - Theis because he's 6-foot-8, Williams because he's 6-foot-8, inexperienced and a fouling machine.
There's a chance we'll find out the answer to those questions in these playoffs, as the Celtics could face the 76ers in the first or second round. Regardless, Gasol makes a lot of sense for them because of both his experience and track record of guarding centres like Joel Embiid.
Offensively, Gasol would help fill the void left by Horford as a 3-point shooter and passer at the centre position. He's not the scorer Horford was in his last season with the Celtics, but that shouldn't be a problem on a team built around Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward, the latter of whom has a $34.2 million player option in his contract for next season that you'd think he's going to pick up. Gasol would be able to fulfill a similar role as he currently is on the Raptors, basically serving as the fourth or fifth option.
Once again, the Celtics will be limited in the amount they'll be able to offer Gasol and other free agents this offseason because of how much they've already committed to Walker, Brown and Hayward and how much they're expected to commit to Tatum. Unfortunately for Gasol, there just aren't many good teams in need of a centre with cap space this offseason.
This is an insurance policy for Dwight Powell, who suffered a season-ended Achilles injury back in January. Maxi Kleber has filled in well for him as the team's starting centre, but Gasol would give the Mavericks a 7-footer who could soak up a lot of Powell's minutes without taking anything away from both Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis in the frontcourt.
Plus, the thought of Luka Doncic, Porzingis and Gasol being on the court together puts a smile on my face.
We're talking about two basketball savants in Doncic and Gasol alongside a basketball unicorn in Porzingis. With Rick Carlisle pulling the strings, there's a lot to like. Gasol would give Doncic and Porzingis even more space to work with on offence, he'd allow Porzingis to float around more on defence by taking on the assignment of guarding the opposing team's centre and he might even be able to unlock some of Doncic's potential as an off-ball scorer with his playmaking.
Right now, the Mavericks' second-best passer is ... JJ Barea? Delon Wright? Jalen Brunson? Whoever it is, Gasol would give them someone else they can run the offence through, which could take some of the pressure off of Doncic to do everything on offence.
The Mavericks won't have much money to spend in free agency either, but they're in a slightly more advantageous position than the Warriors, Clippers and Celtics, each of whom will either be in or around the tax next season. According to John Hollinger of The Athletic, the Mavericks will have the mid-level and biannual exceptions to offer without being at risk of going into the tax, even if Tim Hardaway opts into his $18.9 million player option for next season.
San Antonio Spurs - There should be a rule that every Gasol has to play for the Spurs at some point in their careers. Gregg Popovich's system is tailor-made for bigs who can pass, shoot and defend.
New York Knicks - They have money to spend and they might need another centre if they decline the player options of both Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson. Overspending on Gasol at this point of his career feels like a Knicks thing to do.
New Orleans Pelicans - A rim protector who is content standing on the 3-point line on offence, Gasol is the ideal centre to pair with Zion Williamson. It's just too bad that Gasol is at the tail-end of his career. Peak Gasol next to Williamson would be basketball nirvana.
Charlotte Hornets - The Hornets were rumoured to be interested in Gasol at last season's trade deadline. One of the few teams expected to have cap space this offseason, they could set the market for Gasol.
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