Pau Gasol will entering his 18th season in the NBA this year with the Portland Trail Blazers, here’s why it could mark the end of an era.
The Portland Trail Blazers acquired something of a living legend in Pau Gasol this summer. But to fully understand this ride eventually has to end, we have to go back to where it all started.
After dominating Spain’s top professional basketball circuit — winning the Liga ACB championship and taking home the league’s MVP award — Pau Gasol was drafted back in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. His time in the Peach State never come to fruition however, as he was dealt on draft night to the newly relocated Memphis Grizzlies.
After winning Rookie of the Year and establishing his presence in the league as an All-Star, Gasol was famously dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers (in a swap for his very own brother) where he would go on to win two championships and three All-NBA team nominations next to the legendary Kobe Bryant.
Since leaving LA, Pau has become something of a league journey man. He has made stops in Chicago, San Antonio and Milwaukee in recent years, picking up ever more league experience and another All-NBA team selection. While Gasol may no longer be the player he once was, his decision to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers is something fans should be ecstatic about.
But enjoy it while it lasts, because this could potentially be the last time we ever see the Spanish big man suit up again.
Back in November of 2018, Gasol discussed the possibility of retiring with Jabari Young of the Athletic.
“In two summers, I might think about it a little more… It might be an option then, maybe. And maybe not because I love what I do. I work my ass off to do what I do at this stage, to keep up with the pace of the game and the progress and the development of the game today. I take pride in that. That’s what makes me who I am.”
Upon conclusion of this upcoming season, Gasol will have reached the two summers benchmark set for himself before reevaluating his future. But even if he’s not ready to retire, he may not end up even getting a choice.
There’s no doubt many general managers have respect for Pau’s achievements and legacy, but if he’s the same shell that averaged only 3.9 points over 30 games last season, his shelf life in the league may finally be nearing its expiration date.
Granted, he will get plenty of opportunities to prove otherwise next year. With Jusuf Nurkic recuperating from injury and Zach Collins expected to assume the starting role at power forward, Gasol will be expected to be the primary backup behind Hassan Whiteside until Jusuf returns back to action.
But just because he will get meaningful play time, does not guarantee he will excel when he’s on the court. In fact, the contrary is probably the more likely scenario. A stress fracture in his left foot last year was the most recent injury to leave Gasol immobilized. His lateral quickness and athleticism are now nearly non-existent due to no fault of his own.
Gasol will also have to keep up with the fast pace offense ran by players like Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Rodney Hood. Though he was an All-Star as recently as 2016, it’s unlikely he has much left in the tank.
Ultimately, that won’t even matter. The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t sign Gasol because they believed he could somehow recapture his prior form. They signed him because he’s a true leader with a plethora of basketball experience all over the world, perfect for mentoring Collins and helping raising the next generation of Portland basketball.
And for that exact reason, Pau Gasol should retire with the Blazers.
This is the last time he will be able to contribute to a true contender. It’s also the perfect chance to leave his imprint on the NBA, even on his way out. The young Blazers will carry any lessons learned from Pau for the rest of their careers. And if all goes to plan, he will get to swap his jersey for a third and final ring.