The marriage between Marc Gasol and the Lakers has been an almost perpetually awkward one, with the team never actually letting him go — and sometimes asking for his services —but also never seeming totally satisfied with the seven-foot Spaniard, perpetually looking for upgrades over their sometimes-starter.
Gasol was part of a starting lineup that helped the Lakers run out to the best record in the league last season, but caught COVID-19 and (understandably) didn’t quite appear to be himself when he returned. His teammates and the front office responded by recruiting Andre Drummond in to supplant him as a buyout free agent, promising Drummond that he could have Gasol’s starting spot to secure his signature.
This (again, understandably) offended Gasol, leaving him openly considering asking for a buyout of his own before recommitting to the team and promising to play whatever role was needed from him. He even started their final playoff game against the Phoenix Suns as Frank Vogel desperately searched for answers, and Gasol played well enough when he got in down the stretch of the season, albeit to no avail in a playoff matchup he was particularly ill-suited for.
After the season, Gasol was again noncommittal about a return. He called it an “honor” to play for the same team where his brother Pau won two rings, but admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d be in the Lakers’ future plans while simultaneously saying the team should consider running things back. The Lakers didn’t do that, almost entirely overhauling their roster in free agency, with Gasol as one of just four players currently slated to come back, but he still said he planned to play out his contract.
However, according to NBA insider Marc Stein, him getting to do so with the Lakers may not be quite set in stone just yet:
I’m hearing that Marc Gasol is not a lock to return to the Lakers, even after Gasol said following Spain’s quarterfinal loss to the United States in the Olympics that he intends to play out the final year of the two-year deal he signed with Los Angeles. It’s not yet clear if that means Gasol is poised to be set free to play elsewhere in the NBA or if he would ultimately opt to finish his career in his home country like brother Pau.
This is, as illustrated above, the continuation of a trend of uncertainty that has followed Gasol and the Lakers, with neither side really sure if they want to continue things together and potentially looking for greener pastures. And reading between the lines of how the Lakers handled Gasol last season and what they’ve done this season, it’s not hard to envision that the two sides may yet call it quits after just one season together.
Not only did the Lakers never seem to fully value what Gasol brought to the table last season given their dalliances with Drummond while benching the veteran starter and only dusting him off in emergencies, but the team also reportedly considered salary dumping Gasol in sign-and-trade talks with the Minnesota Timberwolves for Alex Caruso that never progressed. Still, their willingness to just sort of dump him doesn’t exactly speak highly of their opinion on how much they feel they need Gasol this season.
There are also the realities of their roster construction that point towards Gasol being the odd man out. With the Lakers reportedly expecting Anthony Davis to play more center this season and the star himself telling new co-star Russell Westbrook that he’d play the 5 more to make their partnership work better, it already wasn’t hard to see Gasol potentially on the outside looking in when it came to the rotation.
And that was before the Lakers signed Dwight Howard as another center, and added 3/4 combo forwards like Trevor Ariza and Carmelo Anthony to potentially help space the floor in smaller lineups around Davis at the 5, LeBron James at the 4 and Russell Westbrook at point guard. Again, it isn’t difficult to envision a scenario where Gasol is racking up DNPs again, especially if Davis actually does start to play the majority of his minutes at center (and doubly so if he actually starts there). It’s also pretty clear at this point, based on all of these reports and their own actions, that at the very least the Lakers don’t value Gasol very much.
What does all this mean for Gasol and the Lakers’ future? Maybe nothing, maybe something. But given all the writing on the wall, it’s pretty obvious that a reunion doesn’t appear to be either side’s Plan A.