Pau Gasol is in a bad situation with the Chicago Bulls. With the way he’s being used and the Bulls’ other roster problems, it makes sense that the Bulls would be willing to trade him if the right offer came along.
Gasol is having a very down year in Chicago, which is disappointing because of how good he was last year. In the Bulls’ previous season, Pau was named to the All-NBA Second Team, put up a gaudy 18.5 points/12 rebounds per game, and topped it off this summer by winning the EuroBasket MVP.
The cause for Gasol’s precipitous drop in numbers is largely tied to new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. Coach Hoiberg has installed a completely different offensive system – one that wastes the talent of Gasol. Gasol is still capable of putting up big numbers on a different team, but he’ll continue to struggle if he stays in Chicago.
Stretching Pau Out Is Wasting Him
Pau Gasol came to the Bulls as a free agent off a series of very disappointing seasons with the Lakers. Mike D’Antoni came in as the new Lakers coach and tried to stretch Pau out to the perimeter. The results were ugly, with both coach and player bickering at each other through the media. Pau put up career-low numbers, and D’Antoni didn’t finish out his contract with the team.
When Pau came to Chicago, Tom Thibodeau featured him as a centerpiece of the team’s offense. The Bulls ran a post-heavy offense, throwing the ball to Gasol on the block or at the elbow where he could do damage with his excellent passing and post moves.
Hoiberg’s offense could not be more different from Thibodeau’s. Rather than throwing the ball early and often in the post, Hoiberg has used Pau in a similar fashion to D’Antoni and taken him away from getting the ball in spots that he likes. As a result, Pau’s shooting and production is way down from last year:
Statistics courtesy of Pau Gasol Basketball-Reference Page
Pau is a much less efficient player this year – he’s shooting a worse percentage, getting to the line much less, and shooting way fewer shots at the rim (0-3 feet). His midrange shots (16 ft-3pt) have skyrocketed. While Pau is a great midrange shooter, those still are not nearly as efficient for him as the shots he was getting last year at the rim.
Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system centers around a fast pace, lots of three-pointers, and perimeter players that are given the green light to shoot. Gasol is 35 and while he can shoot the corner 3 very well, it’s never going to be a focal part of his offense. He depends on the perimeter guys to pass the ball to him in the post and the Bulls players aren’t doing it. Gasol’s post touches are down 33% from last year. He’s not happy about it either – last week he told KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
“To me right now, there is not much balance to getting the ball inside and what we do outside…I’d like to see more action in the paint myself and get better rhythm shots from outside.”
Gasol is too old to be sprinting down the court in a fast-paced offense. If there is a team out there that could use Gasol back in the post, he could continue to do big damage. Chicago isn’t that place anymore.
Chicago’s Roster Imbalance
Another reason Gasol should be available is because Chicago has a glut of big men on their roster and are extremely shallow in other positions. The Bulls are badly struggling at Small Forward – Mike Dunleavy, the projected starter, is having setbacks from his back problems, and the timetable for his return is completely unknown. The backups, Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, have been a mixed bag. Both are rated as well below average in advanced stats like ESPN’s Real Plus Minus or PER.
The point guard situation for the Bulls has been even worse. Derrick Rose has been one of the least efficient offensive players in the league. His backups, Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich, and E’Twaun Moore are all fringe NBA players, and Brooks and Hinrich are both injured as well. Chicago is desperate for help at this position and could be willing to give up a lot to shore up their glaring weaknesses.
The biggest thing is that the Bulls wouldn’t miss Gasol if he left. They have Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson, and promising rookie Bobby Portis in the frontcourt. It would be easy for the Bulls to redistribute Gasol’s minutes to those other players if he left.
Why Chicago Will Pull the Trigger – Pau’s Contract Status
Pau Gasol has an option for next year that he will almost certainly exercise. That means he’s essentially a free agent after this year and there is a very real chance the Bulls will lose him for nothing if they don’t make a trade now. He has a 15% trade kicker, but even with that kicker he’d only be making around $8.7M this year. That’s not a lot of salary for other teams to take on to get a quality starter.
Teams who traded for Gasol now would have benefits too during the offseason if they wanted to resign Gasol. The cap rules are complicated, but simply put there would be exceptions to the cap that would make it easier to resign Gasol.
Gasol could really help a team. He was great for the Bulls last year but he just doesn’t fit what they are trying to do any more. Don’t be fooled by his down statistics – he still has a lot left in the tank, as he showed just a few months ago by dominating the EuroBasket tournament.
This could be a win-win for both sides, as the Bulls badly need help at other positions and Gasol could go on to finish his career in a more productive system for him. If your team needs a high-character teammate, good scorer, excellent passer, and has a guy that can cover for Gasol’s lack of agility on defense, then he could be the missing piece to take your team to contender.