The Pau Gasol Problem

The Pau Gasol Problem

For generations now, thousands of players have been fortunate enough to fulfill their dream of playing basketball professionally in the NBA. Only a select few have been privileged to sustain a career long enough to reach 1000 games. Pau Gasol, in his sixteenth season in the NBA, joins that list, becoming the 116th member of the 1000 club.

Having had a brilliant career, both in the NBA and internationally, Gasol will go down as one of the game's greatest players and a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. The accomplishments are evident, the success has been profound, but in this time of reflection on who Spain's greatest has become, it's also important to discuss who he projects to be.

The Chicago Bulls appear to be at the crossroads: Do they pose a serious threat for title contention, or should they begin the progression towards a rebuild through its younger core?

Various opinions on the matter exist, and depending on the performance of the team on any given night, any and all contentions may be pertinent. Boasting a 0.2 net rating, a 1.1 point differential and a roster with six players 30-years of age or above within its rotation, Chicago find themselves trapped in the heart of mediocrity.

Pau Gasol, in many ways, represents the problem with today's Bulls: An aging player who is consistently inconsistent. Brilliant on one night, poor the next. The results are mixed and often fizzle out to somewhere in the middle. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not great, either.

As the young 2016 season progresses, the mini-resurgence of Gasol as a star in his first season in Chicago seems to have been more of an aberration than a new found baseline of sustained excellence. Under a new coach and a new system, Pau has struggled to recapture the heights of last seasons performance, and with that, questions of fit within Hoiberg's plans have been raised.

Through 17 games, Gasol has only managed averages of 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds on 43.7 percent shooting. All of those numbers are down from last season, which is something you'd expect to see given the decline in his minutes under Fred Hoiberg. His raw numbers have fallen, as has his efficiency. Finding himself in a different role, facing up further away from the basket, Pau's true shooting percentage has plummeted from 55.0 percent in 2014-15, to only 47.3 percent in 2015-16.

It remains to be seen if the decline in production is born out of an adjusting period to a new program or simply Father Time knocking on Gasol's door, but what can be noticed is the eerily similar numbers to the Bulls' previous prized free agent signing, Carlos Boozer.

Analyzing Gasol's current numbers with those from Boozer's final stand in Chicago, per 100 possessions, the results are comparable.

The keyword to note is comparable. Gasol and Boozer aren't the same player, even if their production per 100 possessions on these selective statistics can be observed and argued as such. Clearly, Pau is able to impact the game defensively in a way that Boozer simply couldn't. His ability to block shots and protect the rim has been crucial this season. The length of Gasol keeps in defensive plays longer than Boozer, which helps Pau's ability to provide help defense (when motivated).

These facts alone have made Gasol a far more valuable individual defensive player than anything Carlos Boozer possibly could have been.

They're not the same player, and though the comparison may be off in some ways, is it a leap to suggest that Gasol is on the verge of dwindling into the high volume, low efficiency player that Boozer eventually became?

This is the issue that Pau Gasol presents. His best days are behind him and holding onto him is doing a disservice to all involved. With Boozer, the Bulls knew when to severe ties with their declining big man. They moved him when they could, electing to amnesty the power forward in part to chase free agents in 2014, the year Gasol was signed in Chicago. As such, Gasol replacing Boozer is true in a lot of ways.

Like then, the organisation is faced with a similar decision now - do they retain Gasol in the offseason and risk watching him deteriorate as a player in hopes of squeezing out a few more seasons of quality play, or do they move on?

Like Gasol, Joakim Noah is due for a contract extension, and with his recent self looking reinvigorated, keeping the pulse of the franchise around seems likely. The Bulls drafted Bobby Portis with the No. 22 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and he looks every bit a ready-made player. Of course, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson still are on the roster, too.

If the intention of the front office is to keep the four remaining - and younger - big men on the roster, the decision to move away from Gasol quickly morphs into a when, not if, scenario.

"When" is an interesting question.

Something needs to be done with the roster, but it won't be happening now. Fred Hoiberg is seventeen games into his coaching career. He will be granted time to rework this roster. The beginning of December isn't enough time for this front office to make a move, even if an uneasy fan base suggests otherwise. A team identity has yet to be forged. The fortunes of the team haven't been written in stone, and throwing away a good player like Gasol won't happen until it's clear that the only option is separation.

A division this season between Gasol and Chicago only seems possible if the team is floundering around a .500 record past January. Should the road to rebuilding become clear to Gar Forman, moving Pau for a late first-round pick would be the optimal solution for Chicago. Would anyone be willing to do away with a cost controlled asset like a draft pick to take on the potentially expiring contract of Pau Gasol? I wouldn't consider that a likely scenario.

Obviously, we're not at that point of trades just yet, so fantasizing about possible player movement scenarios seems rather elementary. It would be wise to expect the roster to remain as is for at least the next month. Even then, however, is it even plausible to assume that a move would be made?

Given the front offices limited history in signing off on midseason trades, the theory of moving Pau seems like a stretch. In fact, it would be far more likely that the team will look to hold onto Gasol going forward, and in a recent piece from Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago, that would appear to be the exact intention of the organisation.

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 they'll make a hard push to retain his services.

If true, this seems like an odd position to take. Is extending the contract of mid-30s in age player a wise decision at this point? Pau has been a good player for the Bulls and has certainly outplayed his contract, but what does retaining him mean for the rest of the roster?

Will Noah, too, be extended? Doing so will eat up the majority of the available cap space the Bulls would own with the pending cap explosion, thus limiting the team's ability to fill various gaps that currently exist and are far more pressing.

Is more of the same with this roster an intelligent decision?

On some nights, you could forgive the organisation for feeling so strongly about Gasol. Even as he declines, the two-time NBA champion still has the ability to dominate against certain match-ups. We saw this recently against Denver, a night where Pau owned the undersized and defensively weakened Nuggets' frontline, scoring 26 points, grabbing 19 boards and single-handedly willing the team to a victory.

When you couple these type of performances with the character of the man off the floor, it's hard to let that caliber of person leave your franchise.

Loyalty is a terrific virtue to have. We hear so often how the league is a ruthless business with no room for emotive ties, but no doubt the notion and romanticism of a pure allegiance between player and team still exists to some. The San Antonio Spurs live this culture, which is something the Bulls try their best in replicating. This is all well and good, but there must be a line.

Gasol's star is fading. His play has regressed in 2015-16, and at age 35 with a player option potentially at his disposal, the remaining years of his career aren't guaranteed to be in Chicago. He's not to blame for all of the Bulls' issues, nor are his flaws severely weakening this team's ability to win ball games. In a vacuum, extending Gasol isn't a bad thing, but in context of where this Bulls team finds itself positioned over the next 3-5 seasons, the legitimacy and logic of pursuing a new contract with Pau seems misguided.

With a player option at his disposal, hopefully Pau makes the decision easier on Chicago by leaving them. If this decision were solely left in the hands of Bulls' management, we couldn't confidently suggest that they would make the right decision in picking the youth movement over yesterday's heroes.


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  • Good post. Most of us thought it was strange to sign Gasol to begin with and as it turns out, it was. We already had Noah, Taj -- who was told he'd be starting, and Niko. Those 3 guys all have flaws but all are quality, big minute players. We really just needed a backup C, someone who could provide 10-12 quality minutes at the C position, someone like Nazr but a little better, a little more reliable. Instead we got a C who would push Noah to play PF, a position he was never ideally suited for.

    As it turned out, Noah's health issues left him unable to play PF at all and then the team goes out and drafts yet another big man in Portis. So a questionable signing, frankly, didn't really work out well for the Bulls. I'm not saying they shouldn't have drafted Portis, and maybe a healthy Noah would have been able to play PF in a way that made the Gasol signing look brilliant. But it didn't turn out brilliant and now we're overloaded at the position, including 3 guys over 30.

    So what to do now? Gasol isn't re-upping and the Bulls would be nuts to give him a substantial raise. He's great for the money but he's not great overall. I hear Mark and Mort questioning his value around the league but I have to think for a contending team, he'd have quite a bit.

    If I were another team with legit title hopes -- let's say the Cavs -- and my team wouldn't give up an end-of-the-round 1st for Gasol, I'd be pissed. That player probably won't turn into anything -- a future rotation player at best -- while Gasol can help you get a championship this year. It's really not that much to give up to improve your title chances.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I agree, some team would love to land Gasol. But for what? Why trade him for a 28th pick in the draft? Maybe a trade of Gasol with Snell for a 16-20th pick. Maybe.

    However, surprisingly after years, the Bulls still need a quality wing! I see them going for that guy near the deadline, both for this season and the future.

    At this point, there seems to be little hope that Rose will be more than a serviceable guard. I thought the team had a quality PF in Mirotic, but that seems to be at least a soft fizzle for now. He must have some hidden problem, because he showed a lot of promise last season - but only in a few games this year. So, where to?

    Hard to say. If Dunleavy comes back strong, that will help. The Bulls would likely have 3 more wins had he been healthy, putting them at 14-4 and atop the East. Really, it was near criminal negligence that the FO did not grab one of the solid, younger backup SFs as a FA.

    The Bulls are kind of treading water for the next 6 weeks or so to see what directions they will need to go. We all hope the M trio develops better. Butler is the only guy who looks to be a plug-and-play starter for the future.

    If the Bulls trade for a strong SF and the G play improves, they might challenge the Cavs for the ECF. In that case, Gasol and Noah might both want to return on a discount for a title run. Might they then land a solid FA as a final piece?

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Since Phil Jackson supposedly loves him(Gulliver) so much(at least when he isn't yelling at him or giving him the stink eye), maybe we can trade him for Porzingis if we throw in Taj, our first and the Sacto pick. O.K. probably have to include Butler just to get them to pick up the phone.

    On a less facetious note, what about OKC for Kanter, maybe they want out from that big contract they were forced into giving him. He's basically the same genre of player, all offense, no defense. He is a significantly more physical player, so maybe he could be taught to play some D. He's 12 years younger and even in his reduced role with OKC has a higher PER(23something), for those of you for whom PER is everything. We likely have to include Taj just to make the cap work. At this point, who cares, I'm done with Taj, just let him have his annual ankle injury so that he can get out of the way and let Portis play.

    Noah, Kanter, Niko and Portis, I can live with that, at least until I have to see with my own eyes how bad Kanter is on defense day in day out. Then all we have to do is figure out who we can get for Rose.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    If you can get the 28th pick for Gasol, you do it. This is a wasted year no matter what and Gasol is not part of any Bulls future. You can get a pick for him now or get nothing later.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    While swapping out the bozohole for Gulliver seemed like a no brainer. I never understood why Noah was the head recruiter when it should have been obvious to him(Noah) that he would be the Bulls player most affected by Gulliver signing with the Bulls. It should have been obvious to him that it would cost him his starting center position, his all star berth, his all defense status and any status on the all nba team. Clearly his knee surgery played a significant role also, but now the Gulliver acquisition looks like it will end up costing Noah a ton of money in his next contract, nevermind what's going on behind the scenes with this years team chemistry.

    As Mark's post suggests, it was a good signing in abstract, but not necessarily for this Bulls team especially if you actually understand what Gulliver's game and persona are all about, i.e. if you followed the Lakers mess over the past several years at all.

  • Excellent Dennis Podman episode 10, once again great Bulls talk. The dilemma with Pau is that he is still a really good low post center and rim protector, statistically and by the eye test. His scoring efficiency is down this year in part because he's shooting more long 2's. No disrespect to Stacey, but while Pau is fairly good at those shots, they are not layups for him. Those shots are not better than a Snell/McD three, who currently are number 2 and 4 in the league, respectively, in 3pt shooting percentage among qualified players. Rose/Butler/Gasol/Noah/Gibson do not seem to understand this and the need to kick out to the three point shooters on offensive rebounds and contested shots in the lane. I'm sure SOMEONE has done it, but I don't recall seeing it.
    The Bulls should force Pau to play Hoiball or get rid of him, even if that means waiving him, out of respect, not as a negative. Let him go somewhere for free where he can show he's still got it. Sometimes good players do not fit into certain systems (i.e. Pau with D'Antoni). There are no good trade options this year and to trade Pau w/ Snell or McD is just crazy right now. But when I hear Goodwill say the Bulls will try to retain Pau it's just mind blowing. PAU DOESN'T WANT TO BE A STRETCH 4/5.
    Imagine a lineup with Rose/Snell/Butler/McD/Taj or Niko or Kirk/Butler/Snell/McD/Taj or Niko. Throw some Portis in there some where. Well, all we can do is imagine because Pau won't accept a bench role in a contract year without major blowback. Snell/Niko/Doug all do certain things really well and yet have some significant deficiencies they are working on and getting better at. In other words, they are young players. At some point, the FO has to stop trying to win every game (which is not going so well, btw) and let their young guys play. The Bulls need to get rid of this mentality that veterans have some sort of rights to shots and minutes when they are not producing and not executing the offense.

  • This article should have been: The Other Problem as Derrick Rose in an albatross of monumental proportions. $41 Million reasons over the next two seasons why the Bulls offense is stuck in the mud currently 26th in the league. Rose shooting a god awful .355 from the field and .220(maggot gagging) from three. Unless Rose's numbers improve dramatically this team is done. Meanwhile Mirotic is not being developed properly or he just isn't as good a volume shooter as was hoped. And Portis might as well be at summer camp. Wake me when it's over.

  • "The Bulls need to get rid of this mentality that veterans have some sort of rights to shots and minutes when they are not producing and not executing the offense." TRUE!

    However, Rose is not producing as hoped. Mirotic is not producing as expected. And Dunleavy is not producing at all! That is a lot for the coaches to overcome.

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    HHow about the Derrick Rose problem? don't you people see it?

  • In reply to Sergio Iván:

    Sergio, I see it. Why others don't is a mystery to me. Rose has a PER of 9.97, #61 of 69 in Hollinger's database. Still not a believer that he is a major problem? Rose has a -5.09 Real Plus/Minus which is #80 of 82 in that database. Btw, he is the highest paid player on the team

    However, this column talks about the "Pau Gasol problem." Pau has the highest PER of any Bull (21.22) and has a higher PER than Tim Duncan, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, And Draymond Green, among others.

    Oh, but Pau gives it up on defense you say. Let's see. Gasol has a Real Defensive Plus/Minus of 3.54. Better than Anthony Davis, Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, and Andrew Bogut, among others. And he is paid about 38% of what Rose makes.

    Go figure.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    Just to clarify, Rose is #80 of 82 in the database for eligible point guards.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    This piece wasn't written to blame it all on Pau Gasol. He isn't the sole problem. He isn't the only problem. Derrick Rose is the main issue, but we shouldn't pretend that Pau Gasol has played well this season.

    He hasn't. He isn't part of the future, and that's why he is a problem. He represents the issue with the team - Use to be good, may be good this season but will start to fall off very soon.

  • The Derrick Rose situation is why I've basically given up on this team. The calls for patience with his broken face were fair, but that never really explained why he wasn't getting to the hoop. He's done, the team is done, until he's gone. You can't compete with max money tied up in an average player, let alone the below average player that Rose currently is.

  • right now, all I can say, is GO PACERS, Paul George has to have a huge game.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Well, I do have to mention that the Bulls were outscored(again) 23-13 during the last 6 minutes(5:58) of the 4rth quarter, you know after stat sheet stuffer, MR PER reentered the game. To be fair, Gulliver had lots of help(Niko, BG7 Rose), but at this point only a willfully ignorant blind fool would believe that he isn't a huge part of the problem if not the very genesis of it. If you don't believe me(or your own eyes), just check out BAB today, the pick forks and torches are out in force.

    Even allowing 42 points in the 4rth to a team playing it's 5th game in 7 nights at the end of a 10 day road trip, the Bulls should of won the game as pathetic as the Suns were in the third, not scoring a field goal over the final 7:47. Taj alone probably cost us the game in the 3rd when we should have been up 25-30 if it weren't for his nonstop F-ups on the offensive end.

    Man, Free Bobby Portis, by any means necessary.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Actually, other than Sam Smith the pick forks and torches were out on too. Really, can nearly everybody(but 2 guys) who watches the Bulls be wrong about the Gulliver effect.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    That means that in the first six minutes of the quarter the Bulls were outscored 19-11 when Noah and Gibson, our two defensive aces, were in. By the way, Gibson had a -14, worst on the team.

    In the last quarter, Knight was running rings around Butler

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    around Butler, Niko was flopping around like a chicken, Rose was pretending he was the closer he once was and McDermott wasn't getting the ball. But, of course, it's all Gasol's fault. All he did was score 22 points in 25 minutes, pull down 10 boards, had six terrific assists and blocked three shots. The best Bulls player on the floor.

  • The team is falling into what they should be now. A middle of the pack playoff team. The Bulls don't have the fire power nor the coaching experience to take into them to contention. I think this team resembles the last year of Vinny DelNegro team, nothing special about any player but at the of the day, will make the playoff b/w 6 and 8 seed and being nocked down on the first round.

  • I also wonder if last night wasn't the first day of the end of the BG7 Rose era. At least on the defensive side of the court he has become a pathetic, gutless clown, just mentally and physically worthless. He really doesn't even look/move like an athlete anymore. Is he even a professional basketball player, or is he just a self deluded professional rehab/workout specialist. Not sure whose post game comments are more comical, his or Gulliver's.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    He has a lot on his mind between becoming a better businessman, attending his son's graduation, and getting his next big contract. You can't expect him to give defense his full attention.

  • Finally, he gets it! Look for Hoiberg to start Taj tonight with Niko coming off the bench.

    I like Niko a lot but he's not playing well this year and Taj is a much better complement to Gasol than Niko is. Meanwhile, Niko is a better complement to Noah. I think both the starting and bench units will improve just from this swap. This should also get Niko away from McDoug. You just can't have Gasol, Niko and McDoug on the floor at the same time. See the end of the Suns game for evidence but it makes intuitive sense as well.

    Some, like David Haugh, believe Hoiberg has already lost the team. That might be a stretch but he clearly needs to do something. I feel bad for him that he has to coach Derrick Rose.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    While Taj complements Gasol, I wonder if he'll also compliment him on his hair or maybe his manly beard.

  • Great article Mark. I agree, Gasol should be moved in the best interests of the franchise, at this juncture. It's just the right move. Even if just for a decent wing and a pick swap with a lowly team looking for a name, or a pick/player (backup PG/wing help) or picks from a contender looking for veteran leadership and big help.

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