In Chicago it was supposed to be a fresh start, Pau Gasol was supposed to have a guaranteed place. That was the point of all the wooing and romance of the Chicago Bulls front office who made Pau their intended target once it was clear Carmelo Anthony would not play for $16 million a year. So Pau Gasol left Los Angeles with the specific intention to be the Chicago Bulls starting power forward on the way to another championship season. He accepted his place in the hierarchy. Pau would be a valuable piece in a sharing and skilled front line, the best in the Eastern Conference. He would have Taj Gibson playing behind him to make up for his disintegrating athleticism and defense.
There is no debate about what Pau Gasol has done in the NBA. His consistency and success lay out the case for Hall of Fame induction, his championships accent his credentials as one of the great power forwards of his generation. But Pau, having left the perfection of his younger self awhile back, cannot argue he is a better option than Kevin Love who is the age Pau used to be when Pau was playing his fifth season for Memphis.
If the Bulls are successful in acquiring Kevin Love it might repeat history for Pau Gasol. The Bulls might do to Pau Gasol what Mike D’antoni did to Pau Gasol. Once more Pau will be forced into a role he did not agree to.
The recent history of Pau had him playing the part of the wounded. He was shunned but acted as if it did not matter. Unhappiness was what he tried to obscure just as unhappiness reeked out his pores. An unfamiliar stranger took up residence inside his seven foot frame. Misery loved Pau Gasol’s company and Pau was often awkward trying to hide his disdain. During his last two years as a Laker, whenever Pau Gasol was caught smiling, it seemed unnatural, his face actually looked broken. He played that way too even as he played around a variety of injuries.
In sizing up the Bulls, Pau looked at the explosiveness of Derrick Rose and the possibilities of Doug McDermott and the energy and endurance of Joakim Noah and the defensive genius of Tom Thibodeau and Gasol fit within their nucleus as the starting power forward. In a way it was redemption for the Mike D’antoni hell years. What the Bulls lacked was length and Gasol gave them a skilled offensive player who at seven feet was a perfect complement to the inventiveness of a driving Rose and a passing Noah. It all made sense and at his introductory press conference Pau admitted he was looking forward to this new start, similar to how he looked forward to leaving Memphis and joining the Lakers.
But some six days later Pau is facing another possible change of circumstances. The Bulls, in an attempt to outbid the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kevin Love, have put an impressive array of players on the table for the Minnesota Timberwolves to consider. It is a better package than Cleveland can match.
Cleveland is selling the potential of Andrew Wiggins and the potential of Anthony Bennett and the potential of a first round pick. But NBA potential often translates into NBA mediocrity. Wes Johnson, the #4 pick in the 2010 draft, is reflective of that. Jonny Flynn, the #6 pick in the 2009 draft, is no longer in the NBA. Al-Faroq Aminu, a 2010 lottery pick, just signed a minimum deal to prolong his NBA career.
Kevin Love, a 20-10 machine, is worth more than potential.
It is why Chicago offered to Minnesota the defensive toughness of Jimmy Butler, a two way player, and Taj Gibson, an athletic and agile rebounder and post player, and Doug McDermott, a rookie many believe is a hybrid Kyle Korver who can create his own shot. The Bulls package is youth and experience and playoff tested and ready and it may be enough to sway Kevin Love to the Windy City.
If that happens where does that leave Pau Gasol?
On day 1 Pau will begin games as an observer, a bench player. He will be anointed for all that he sacrificed. The Bulls won’t disrespect Pau but the facts will be the same. Kevin Love will start, get the most minutes.
Love is a natural fit for the skill set of Derrick Rose’s driving ability. As a perimeter player he will open the floor. As a rebounder his hustle and work ethic will create multiple opportunities. As a 25 year old his body will not have been tortured by 13 years of NBA competition and just as many years on Spain’s national team.
The Bulls have announced to everyone listening that while Pau Gasol is a nice player, Kevin Love is a better player.
But what Pau Gasol and Kevin Love have in common is that neither Pau nor Love can do much to stop explosive power forwards, both are soft defenders in the paint. But Kevin Love is a prime “get” and if the Bulls can pull it off they have to placate Pau Gasol who gave up Los Angeles and San Antonio to come to Chicago. The logical conclusion is that Pau may in fact find himself on the bench in the 4th quarter of a playoff game that crowns a champion. In that way he will be no different than Carlos Boozer.