'It's an exciting moment that I want to be able to enjoy and not be too stressed about.' - Pau Gasol on becoming a free agent for the first time in his NBA career.
Andrew D. Bernstein
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — For the last few years, there were times Pau Gasol walked around the Lakers practice facility thinking it could be his last time doing so as a member of the organization.
On Thursday, as he showed up for Lakers exit interviews he entertained the same thoughts.
"It could be my last day," he said. "Maybe."
The two-time NBA champion has been the subject of constant trade rumors over the past few seasons. Yet, once all the dust settled, he remained in Purple and Gold.
This summer, Gasol will be a free agent for the first time in his NBA career and if he ultimately does not return to the Lakers, it will be because he decided there was a better destination for him, not because he was shipped off in a trade by Lakers management.
It’s a unique position for Gasol, who’s always expressed his interest to remain with the franchise despite numerous rumors that he was on his way out.
Now, with the ball in his court he fully plans to enjoy the moment.
"It’s an exciting moment that I want to be able to enjoy and not be too stressed about, but I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision and I have to decide where I’m going to play and who I’m going to play with," Gasol said.
He’s expressed his desires to join a team that has an opportunity to win a championship. However, he has not ruled out the Lakers given the opportunity for the franchise to add some pieces in the offseason.
"I’m still going to listen closely to what the Lakers will have to offer and say about the team’s situation and position at the time," said Gasol, who’s averaged 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in his seven seasons with the Lakers. "We know what it is today but we don’t know how it’s going to be on July 1st."
He believes Kobe Bryant will be able to return to the floor and play at a high level next season. He’s also optimistic Steve Nash will be healthier than he was in 2013-14. Combined, Bryant and Nash played just 21 games. If Gasol were to return to the Lakers next season, he says Bryant would be "one of the main reasons" he’d come back to L.A.
Bryant has been outspoken with his support of Gasol throughout the years and has said he’d like to see him return to the Lakers. Not only has he said it publically, but he has expressed it to Gasol as well.
"He values me as a teammate, as a great player," Gasol said of Bryant. "So, I always appreciated it a lot. I never took it for granted."
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Which brings us to what, ultimately, could be the deciding factor: Mike D’Antoni.
There’s a growing belief Gasol will not return if D’Antoni returns as the team’s head coach. D’Antoni has one more year on his contract and the two haven’t always been on the same page.
"Mike and I had our misunderstandings over these last two years," Gasol admitted.
The normally mild-mannered Gasol was moved so much, at times, he actually exchanged barbs with the head coach through the media.
When asked Thursday how much of a role the head coach would play in him deciding a team to play for, Gasol said he didn’t know how much that would affect his decision.