Gasol will be difficult to forget for Lakers

Los Angeles TimesJuly 13, 2014 

LOS ANGELES_The Los Angeles Lakers officially waved goodbye to two free agents Saturday - one they hoped to get, the other they hoped to keep.

Carmelo Anthony was very close to returning to New York, Pau Gasol elected to move to Chicago, and the Lakers were bystanders.

The Lakers courted Anthony with two things they thought none of his suitors could match - 16 championships and the promise of Hollywood - but the player who was born in the projects of Brooklyn, won an NCAA championship at Syracuse and ultimately forced a trade to the Knicks from Denver in 2011 couldn't turn his back on New York. He was reportedly closing in on a deal late Saturday night.

Gasol said no to two substantial offers from the Lakers - three years and $29 million or two years and $23 million - because he wanted to play for a more championship-caliber team, and Saturday picked Chicago.

"It hasn't been easy," Gasol said Saturday on Twitter. "After meditating it a lot I've chosen to play with the Chicago Bulls. Looking forward to this new chapter of my career."

The Lakers knew which way the wind was blowing on Friday with Gasol and Anthony, and in a flurry acquired Jeremy Lin in a trade before re-signing Nick Young and Jordan Hill.

Although the pursuit of Anthony might be hard to remember in coming years, the departure of Gasol will be difficult to forget.

He played on two championship teams and helped resuscitate the Lakers after being acquired in February 2008 from Memphis with the expiring contract of Kwame Brown as the key piece.

He made his mark with the Lakers as a prolific post player, showing off his sharp mid-range shot and top-notch passing skills.

One person who won't be happy with Gasol's departure: Kobe Bryant.

They worked next to each other for three trips to the NBA Finals.

Several times in the last few years, as the championship glitter started wearing off an aging roster, Bryant vouched for Gasol through the media, trying to publicly nix any trade deals before they happened.

Just last season, he appealed to Lakers management through reporters, saying, "I want Pau here. It's not even a question. It's not even a discussion."

Forgetting for a moment all the persistent trade rumors, including the one that turned out to be true for Chris Paul before it was vetoed by David Stern in 2011, Gasol often found himself in a tug-of-war between his desire to be in the post and the perimeter-oriented schemes of former coach Mike D'Antoni's small-ball offense.

The back-and-forth sometimes played out in the media and ended when Gasol was hit with vertigo that sidelined him 12 games toward the end of last season.

At his exit meeting in April, Gasol acknowledged having "misunderstandings" with D'Antoni the last two years but pledged to listen closely if the Lakers called in July with a contract offer.

When it became apparent a few days ago that Anthony wouldn't be joining the Lakers, it became harder for them to retain Gasol. A meeting with Lakers executives earlier this week was basically termed a "farewell dinner" by one person familiar with it.

Gasol was fine on offense last season, averaging 17.4 points, but slow on defense.

And yet he deserves recognition for being the last one standing among the presumed big three of Bryant, Steve Nash and himself. Bryant played all of six games last season and Nash a not-much-better 15 games.

The Lakers tried to appeal to Anthony with a savvy presentation showing how he could build a brand in Los Angeles.

But Anthony, 30, was ready to take more money with the Knicks than the Lakers could pay him (an extra $33 million on a five-year deal) and gave Phil Jackson a chance at deploying his vision as team president.

In other NBA news, the Associated Press reported that free-agent forward Paul Pierce will sign a two-year deal with the Washington Wizards. Forward Gordon Hayward, a restricted free agent, will return to the Utah Jazz, and the Memphis Grizzlies agreed to terms with veteran free-agent swingman Vince Carter.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, one day after landing four-time MVP LeBron James, acquired center Brendan Haywood and forward Dwight Powell from Charlotte for guard Scotty Hopson and cash considerations.

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