Why Pau Gasol is a perfect fit for Bulls

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 07/14/2014, 01:38pm
Array CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls grabs the ball away from Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the United Center on January 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Lakers 102-100 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

We were waiting to see where LeBron James would take his talents, and now we know: Sweet home, Cleveland.

And the rest of the NBA abruptly falls into place.

Former Bulls and Cavaliers forward Luol Deng goes to the Heat for $20 million for two years. Chandler Parsons hits up the Mavericks for almost $50 million. Trevor Ariza goes to the Rockets for big bucks. Carmelo Anthony dangles himself, says it’s not about money, then returns to the Knicks for gazillions.

And the Bulls get 34-year-old 7-footer Pau Gasol. His contract is said to be starting at somewhere around $6.5 million, but forget about money and think about basketball.

I like this. I do. It’s not great, not earth-shattering, but it’s nice.

The Bulls have pursued every top-tier free agent for years — from Dwyane Wade to Melo to King James himself — and have gotten none of them. Being close means being losers.

We could try to determine what the Bulls’ problems are in terms of failing to snag the best talent in the league, but let’s instead revel in the addition of a tall fellow from Spain who has a deft touch both in passing the ball and shooting it.

Gasol is a center-sized player who has small-forward scoring ability from 15 feet and in. He has been to four All-Star Games and was a member of two NBA championship teams with the Lakers. That means he has heard Phil Jackson’s Zen wrath and all the profanity Kobe Bryant can muster.

The criticism of Gasol always has been that he’s soft. But he’s not a heavy-set man, weighing only 227 pounds, and he does what he can within his slender limitations.

Another of those limitations is age. Gasol was voted the NBA’s Rookie of the Year — the only non-American to win the award — in 2002. There’s a lot of air under his wings, tread off his tires.

Still, he averaged 17.4 points last season, which is only a little off his career average of 18.3. And his 9.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists were above his career averages. But his minutes were down, and he has missed a combined 72 games the last three seasons.

As previously noted, he’s not a superstar these days, but he’s tall, agile and loves to pass and play team ball. It should be fun to see him playing pepper with pass-happy Joakim Noah.

At any rate, here’s how the Bulls’ 2014-15 starting lineup is looking at this moment: Noah at center, Gasol at power forward, Mike Dunleavy Jr. or Jimmy Butler at small forward, Kirk Hinrich or Butler at shooting guard and — put your palms together and pray — Derrick Rose at point guard.

Off the bench would come Taj Gibson, improving Tony Snell, 6-8 rookie and college scoring machine Doug McDermott, European mystery man Nikola Mirotic, who just left Real Madrid to sign with the Bulls for three years and $17 million, and so on.

Is this a team that can beat the Spurs, the Heat (oops, they’re no longer a factor), the Cavaliers, the Clippers, etc.? Maybe, maybe not. But you can’t say it’s a bad lineup or bench. It’s not take-your-breath-away great, but it’s very I-kinda-like-this good.

Gasol claims he thought himself half to death over the decision. He even tweeted out a photo of the Rodin statue ‘‘The Thinker.’’

At the end, though, he came up with this: ‘‘It hasn’t been easy. After meditating it a lot, I’ve chosen to play with the Chicago Bulls. Looking forward to this new chapter of my career.’’

Well, he tweets a lot in Spanish, too, and maybe ‘‘meditating it’’ is a verb in Barcelona, where he’s from.

This fellow is set for life financially. But he has studied medicine, too, and was enrolled in medical school before he dropped out to play ball. He still talks about becoming a doctor once his hoop days are over.

For now, if he can patch up the Bulls and give them another scoring option when they get into their typical rut at the end of games and can’t put anything in the basket, that will be his cum laude graduate degree.

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