How Pau Gasol Went from Afterthought to Critical Cog in LA Lakers’ Offseason

One look at the Los Angeles Lakers’ salary situation two months ago, and the course of action was all too obvious: Use future free agents to build around the recently extended Kobe Bryant and cut everyone else adrift—including Pau Gasol.

Now, with the NBA on the brink of two potentially shape-shifting announcements, Gasol has suddenly become the crucial cog around which L.A.’s grandest plans must pivot.

Not even Gasol could believe he had this much clout.

What a difference a few weeks and unnamed sources can make.

Despite registering a career-par campaign as the undisputed go-to option on a 27-win team, Gasol’s return to the Lakers—with whom he’s tallied a pair of NBA titles—was by no means set in stone.

With Bryant signing a two-year, $48.5 million extension back in November (per CBS Sports’ Matt Moore), the strategy seemed all too obvious: Weather these next two years—even if it means reeling in a few lottery prospects—and reload in 2016, when the likes of Kevin Love, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were slated to hit the open market.

If the Lakers could promise Kobe one or two of the aforementioned forces, perhaps then the 16-time All-Star would consider taking a pay cut.

But in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, both James and Anthony—along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade—opted to forego the final years of their respective contracts and test free agency.

With four of the best players in the world each available at the same time (five if you count Kevin Love), L.A.’s long-term game plan suddenly accelerated.

If they could somehow reel in James and a second superstar, perhaps the Lakers could enjoy the best of both worlds: The single greatest player on the planet, and a slightly younger, fresher Bryant.

Just one small problem: ...

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