Marc Gasol is coming off of an All-NBA First Team season and has established himself as a bonafide star center. After suffering an MCL injury in the middle of 2013-14, Gasol came back strong with 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds a night in 81 games this season. Of course, statistics hardly capture the entirety of Gasol’s game. He’s an uncanny passer–reflected in his 3.8 assists a game–whose skills allow the offense to flow through him. Gasol has also emerged as an elite defensive quarterback, leading Memphis to the fourth best defensive rating in the NBA.
Marc Gasol’s free agency comes at a perfect time for him. Any worries about his knee injury were quelled by a completely healthy season. The Grizzlies have developed into a phenomenal team over the seven seasons that Gasol has played there. However, in an always evolving NBA landscape, Marc must decide if the rest of Memphis’ roster is strong enough to justify staying there for the rest of his prime. With the salary cap primed to explode, Gasol has plenty of options.
If he believes the Grizzlies core to be strong enough to contend for years, Gasol can sign a full maximum contract with Memphis. That deal would guarantee him around $109 million over five seasons. Gasol will turn 31 next season, so locking up that much money through his age-35 season would offer maximum security. If Gasol is certain Memphis has the right players to surround him with, he can guarantee a healthy salary for a long time, regardless of any injuries.
Still, it’s a serious question if the Grizzlies have enough talent around him to keep contending into the future. Zach Randolph is signed for the next two seasons but is already 33 and likely to start declining in production. Mike Conley has one year left before he hits unrestricted free agency while Tony Allen is locked in for two more years. The Grizzlies never had quite enough in the past and most of their core–Gasol included–is on the older side. They should contend with this roster again next season, but who knows after that? Conley will soon command a hefty salary that the Grizzlies may be better served to pass on if they aren’t going to get it done with this group.
Given the uncertain nature of the Grizzlies’ future, Gasol can negotiate a shorter contract instead. With the salary cap set to explode in 2016-17 due to the influx in TV money, a significant chunk of top free agents will angle to hit free agency again soon and sign bigger contracts. Maximum salaries are defined by a percentage of the salary cap in the year that they’re signed. That could be the difference of tens of millions of dollars over the life of a max contract; the salary cap is estimated to jump from about $67 million in 2015-16 to $89 million in 2016-17 and $108 million in 2017-18.
Thus, Gasol’s best option may be to sign a shorter deal with a player option that allows him to dip back into free agency in 2016 or 2017. If he signs the five year deal, Gasol won’t be able to command another maximum contract. By hitting free agency again soon, he can maximize his value by signing one last massive deal while its still available to him.
Memphis, desperate to retain the All-NBA center, would surely offer a one or two year max contract with a player option included (a “1+1” or “2+1”). These would allow Gasol to guarantee plenty of money for at least two or three years while also giving himself the opportunity to sign a contract that starts at the new maximums of around $26 to $30 million dollars.
If Memphis can’t take the leap to true title contention, Gasol can opt out and sign his huge deal with another suitor. The Grizzlies would likely prefer to begin their rebuilding process without Gasol at that point, as he’ll be too old to build the next core around. Of course, the Grizzlies have been painstakingly close to putting it all together in the past. Gasol could also sign a much bigger maximum deal to stay in Memphis if he re-signs this summer and opts out after a year or two.
No other team can offer Gasol more money than Memphis this offseason. Memphis has his Bird Rights, allowing them to offer 7.5 percent raises on top of next year’s maximum salary. The rest of the NBA can offer only four year deals with 4.5 percent raises, meaning he would be giving up money to leave Memphis if he signed a maximum-length deal elsewhere. If Gasol does want to play in another city, it would clearly behoove him to sign a 1+1 or 2+1 contract with someone else.
However, Gasol has lived in Memphis since he was in high school and is a cherished part of its community. The Grizzlies are one of the NBA’s strongest franchises and he’s made it clear that he loves the city. Gasol would likely only leave Memphis if he felt they could not contend, which should not be an issue in 2015-16. He knows that he fits perfectly into their roster and that the Grizzlies are committed to winning at all costs. Considering he’s not taking meetings from any other teams, it seems pretty clear where his heart lies.
If guaranteeing maximum money this offseason is Gasol’s priority at age 30, Memphis can offer the highest salaries for the most years. If he wants to hit free agency again in 2016 or 2017, staying in Memphis still probably offers Gasol the best chance to win next season. Given his great relationship with the franchise and city, there’s really no reason at all for Marc Gasol to consider leaving this summer.