Why Pau Gasol’s 2013-14 Season Will Be Most Critical for His NBA Career

The 2013-14 NBA season is shaping up to be the most important of the last decade for Pau Gasol, if not the most important of his entire career. Gasol's first foray into free agency, on the cusp of his 34th birthday, awaits him next July.

Indeed, Gasol, in his 12 years as a pro in North America, has never been truly free to dictate his own terms. In October of 2004, Pau put pen to paper on a six-year extension with the Memphis Grizzlies. He was traded to the Lakers three-and-a-half years later and inked a three-year extension with the club in December of 2009, months before he was due to hit the market.

Not surprisingly, the whip-smart Spaniard seems fully aware of what's at stake for him, personally, during the Los Angeles Lakers' upcoming campaign, as told to the Associated Press (h/t Sports Illustrated):

I have a great motivation. It's the last year of my contract, so I want to get back to being one of the top players in the league.

This all wouldn't be quite so big a deal if Gasol wasn't fresh off a three-year stretch in which his productivity and effectiveness declined considerably. He suffered a particularly precipitous drop last season, when he missed a career-worst 33 games due to knee and foot injuries and averaged personal lows in points (13.7), field-goal attempts (11.8), and field-goal percentage (.466) in those he played.

Part of the drop-off might justifiably be attributed to Gasol's advancing age. He's on the wrong side of 30 (and then some) and has racked up nearly 35,000 minutes of on-court time between the regular season and the playoffs to this point, in addition to the many summers he's sacrificed in service of the Spanish national team.

Still, even Father Time can't completely explain the slip in Gasol's scoring and rebounding numbers. He may not jump as high or run as fast as he used to (as if he ever did either all that well), but Gasol's still seven fe...

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