The Raptors can throw buckets of money at Marc Gasol for one more year. But he might have a different end game in mind

The Raptors are facing an off-season like no other. They have a handful of free agents to decide on, an uncertain NBA financial picture and a first-round pick in the Nov. 18 draft. This is the fourth in a six-part series looking at the decisions and options that lie ahead:

The question may not be what the Raptors want to do with Marc Gasol in the coming off-season as much as what Gasol wants for himself.

He’s 35 years old — a fully free NBA free agent who’s had a long and distinguished career in North America and internationally with the Spanish national team — and he’s likely thinking long and hard about what he wants out of the end days of his career.

He gave no hint of his intentions after Toronto was eliminated, which was no surprise. He’s a contemplative man who is entirely focused on whatever task is at hand before moving on to the next.

“Every ounce of energy I had … was into just the next day,” he said after Boston knocked Toronto from the post-season. “And you play every game until there’s no games to be played. And after that you just take one day at a time.”

But much like his current backup, Serge Ibaka, it’s hard to imagine the Raptors extending any long-term offers in order to keep financial flexibility past next season.

That’s the crux of any discussion between Gasol and Raptors management.

“You know how we’ve dealt with this with our team. We have to really look at what is now — we have to look at the short-term future — and we have to look at the long-term future,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “And after that we have to look at a key year, which is 2021, and free agency.

“So, this is where we have to really, I think, buckle down and really make an assessment of what bubble basketball was against what the real outside-the-bubble basketball was, which was last season.

“We have to figure out all of that, and this is a time for us to do this. This is our time. You feel, you support as much as you want during the bubble, during the playoffs, during the season. Now it’s the time for us to work. Now is the time for us to do our jobs.”

Taking all that into consideration along with Gasol’s age and contribution, it’s hard to see the Raptors offering more than a one-year deal.

How much of a raise that would be from his 2019-20 salary of $25.6 million (U.S.) isn’t a big concern for the club. The Raptors can sign him to any amount without regard for the salary cap, and it won’t eat into any savings for the 2021 free-agent period.

Gasol, though, is likely to have options.

NBA teams may want to offer a second or third year, and even playing out his career in his native Spain is a possibility.

The website reported last week that Gasol might be considering staying home, living in his homeland and finishing his professional and international career in familiar surroundings. That makes some sense, but would be among several contemplations Gasol is having now.

One thing that’s wrong to do is to strictly judge Gasol’s contributions on empirical data. His raw numbers don’t jump off the page most nights, but his subtle impact on games is something a championship-calibre team needs.

And all those times when fans threw their hands up and decried his seeming unwillingness to fire up three-pointers have to be balanced against the ultimate results of those possessions, where his first pass may have led to a second pass and a third, and an open look for a teammate.

Defensively, it’s the same. He’s rarely out of position, his communication skills with teammates are exemplary — if you talk to them, or his coaches — and those little things make him more valuable than some might notice.

Maybe that’s not entirely necessary on a team climbing the ladder to contention, but it can make a good team great.



And when Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster are weighing their options this off-season, what they see as immediate needs for a chance at another deep playoff run may determine what they do with Gasol and contract talks.

Given the realities of today and the future — where the Raptors are and what they might want to do a year from now — it’s unlikely that both Gasol and Ibaka will be back.

But finding common ground on a one-year deal for either of them — and whether that would fit with the career goals of either player — will be one of the more difficult, and important, challenges of the off-season.

Doug Smith


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