Pau Gasol is a free agent this summer, and is reportedly getting offers in the range of $18 million per year (mostly on two year deals from the rumours). And he reportedly has the Raptors on his short list.
The Raptors should definitely go after him. Here is a quick summary of my reasoning.
To do so, they will need to clear cap room of course. That means, in my proposed solution, trading Terrence Ross (and his $10 million salary) and Lucas Nogueira (and his $2 million salary) for a future pick or some other non-salary return, to clear $16.9 million in cap room. Offering a 3 year deal to Gasol would bring the average salary offer to $17.6 million per year. The third year might be the biggest leverage the Raptors have, but that salary is also right there in terms of competitiveness.
And to be clear, I hear the concerns about him playing a lot at PF. In my scenario, he would indeed start at PF, but we already have most PF minutes allocated to Patterson. Pau would take all the backup C minutes, and just start at PF for short stretches to fill out his minutes (presumably around 30 MPG, so let's say 18 MPG at C and 12 at PF).
Anyway, concerns and my responses to them:
But Pau is Terrible Defensively!
Some have brought up this article by Bulls bloggers, where they argue that he is a terrible defender, is too slow, gives up on plays, etc. I can't say I've watched Pau play more than they have. I have however seen many people who observe the Raptors defend Scola starting, criticize Valanciunas for his defence far more than he deserves, think DeRozan's 2014-15 season was good prior to his injury, and all sorts of other nonsensical stances. There are all sorts of observational biases that can lead to faulty conclusions based on plays that stand out to the eye, rather than taking one play as simply one play among many. So I encourage you to read that article and include the evidence therein in your evaluation of Pau, but don't take it for gospel.
I don't buy the defensive concerns with Pau. Maybe he struggles a bit at PF (maybe), but again, the proposal is to have him play limited minutes there anyway, and take up all the backup C minutes.
In the meantime, all the hand-wringing over whether Pau makes the defence worse: look, for all the blown assignments, and the way he looks defending out there, he's effective. There's basically no denying it.
The Bulls had a better DRTG with Gasol on the court than without him (103.5 vs 104.5). And that's with him playing mostly against starters. Gasol's on-court DRTG was 4th best of 10 players who played 1000+ minutes on the season. You might claim that playing with Butler a lot boosted that -- and it did, Butler and Gasol together had a 101.3 DRTG together. And Gasol had an overall DRTG of 103.5, so he was indeed worse away from Butler. Of course, Butler had an overall 103.3 DRTG, so Gasol had almost the same effect on his defence. And this is on a team where the alternatives to Gasol are defensive players like Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah, when he was able to get on the court.
All the aggregates capture this -- his DRPM was 10th best among all C's last year (+3.07, just ahead of Biyombo; had the 6th best overall RPM among C's). His DBPM was +3.5, the best he's had in his career, though he's been a positive every year of his career. He contributed 3.9 DWS last season, more than any player on the Raptors.
Even in the limited time he spent at PF last season he had loads of success. There's not much sample, but Noah-Gasol in their 132 minutes played (small sample size alert) before Noah went down for good, posted a tremendous 90.8 DRTG. Seems to me he played centre for Chicago mostly because they had no other C's on the roster except Noah and he got hurt. Even if you treat Gibson as a C when he plays with Pau, they had a 103.7 DRTG together, while the Bulls overall had a 103.9 DRTG. Not exactly the weak link bringing that team down defensively.
The other thing with Pau is he's been carrying a significant offensive load for that Bulls team. Carrying that sort of load hurts guys defensively. He had settled into a nice role-player offensive role in his time in LA (around 21% usage) until his last year there, where he jumped up to 25% usage and stuck there in his two years with the Bulls.
Even a guy like Butler, who is a great defender, saw his defensive effort slip with the heaver load he carried this year and last. His usage the past few years went from 17% to 22% to 24%, and his DBPM dropped from 2.4 to 0.6 to 0.3, and his DWS dropped from 4.7 to 3 to 2.6. It's just a reality, lower usage tends to lead to better defensive effort and impact.
Point being, he won't be carrying nearly that heavy usage, settling nicely back into that low-20's range (judging by Scola's sub-20% usage here). I expect better energy from Pau with a lower workload, working against backups more often, and with something to actually play for.
But Our Wing Depth!
Losing Bebe is not exactly a big deal, the Raptors just drafted two bigs, including Poeltl who I'm told is more C than PF (I think he's a good combo big, just like Gasol) and we'd be signing Gasol. Meanwhile, Nogueira is 24 this summer and isn't exactly brimming with potential anymore.
As for Ross, yes, it would hurt their wing depth this year. Of course, there's a lot of wing depth. The Raptors play DeRozan and Carroll significant minutes. We'll be conservative and scale back each of their minutes a bit, Carroll to 32 MPG (he played about 36 when "healthy") and DeRozan to 34 MPG. If Carroll gets 6 MPG as a small ball PF (this number is higher than what he played last season), that leaves 36 MPG at the wing.
Of course, Joseph plays a lot of 2-guard minutes. In the 75 games where Joseph and Lowry both played, they shared the court for 15 MPG on average. That may shrink a bit, but I doubt it (and if it does, it may be to accommodate some minutes for Wright, with CoJo still playing SG). Let's say 12 MPG for Joseph at SG. That leaves us with 24 MPG. Just about enough for Ross or Powell. But not really enough for both. And that's with those conservative minute guesses for the starting wings.
So, yes, you lose some injury insurance on the wing with Ross. Of course, you probably try to bring back James Johnson for the Room MLE, giving depth on the wing and at PF.
Also, if Norman Powell is a positive contributor like he showed in the second half of last season, and can take over Ross' role, his contract is an incredible bargain (at roughly $1 million per year for the next two seasons). The benefit of having bargain contracts like that is that it lets you use that money elsewhere. Now is the time to use money elsewhere. As tight as the cap is this year, it will be tighter next season with DeRozan's full salary counting and Lowry and Patterson looking for raises, even with the cap jumping again.
But Our Three Point Shooting!
Yes, Ross was one of the best three point shooters on the team last season, and spreading the floor is important.
But last year's team was desperate for shooting due to injuries. This year should be different. The team is not actually really lacking in shooters. Kyle Lowry is a good three point shooter, I'm sure no one would argue that in spite of his playoff struggles. DeMarre Carroll should be back full time, and he's had two consecutive 39% shooting seasons (and a 36% the year before). Patterson now has four consecutive seasons of 36%+ three point shooting, it's becoming hard to argue that he is not a good shooter.
Then there are the lower usage shooters -- Powell came in and shot 37% between the regular season and playoffs. Small(ish) sample, but promising. DeRozan had another year of improved shooting from outside (34% on close to 2 attempts a game, 44% from the corner - the third straight year of 39%+ corner shooting from him). And yes, Pau Gasol has shot a combined 36/95 the past two seasons, very low usage but 38% is 38% (and he does bring a lot of spacing with his tremendous midrange game).
Meanwhile, Ross continues to post among the worst defensive impact numbers on the team, and below average overall impact numbers, by both RPM and BPM, for several years now. He won't be a huge loss, even with the shooting he brings.
Go Get Pau Gasol
Long story short, I don't really buy the reasons I've been given for not going after Pau. Yes, he's older, but he's aging well by all the numbers. He is posting career best defensive numbers, great rebounding numbers, and is still a major contributor offensively (as Raptors fans saw first hand several times last season). He was an all-star last season, and if the team wants to win while Lowry is still putting up top of the league impact numbers and borderline superstar play, they need to do it now, not later.
Obviously the team should not be selling draft picks and their future for a move like this. In my mind, Ross and Nogueira are not the future. This move lets the Raptors compete for the next couple years, and keeps the quality depth and youth that will help the team rebound when Lowry and Pau do eventually lose effectiveness.