The Milwaukee Bucks are on the verge of making a major splash on the buyout market. Veteran center Pau Gasol reached a contract buyout with the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, allowing him to sign with another team and retain his playoff eligibility, according to ESPN. The deadline to be waived while keeping playoff eligibility with a different team was 4 p.m. Friday. The 38-year-old will need to clear waivers, but the plan is for the 7-footer to join the Bucks when he does, a source confirmed to the Journal Sentinel.
“Today, I bid farewell to the @spurs,” Gasol wrote on Twitter. “It’s been a dream to play for 1 of the most storied franchises in @NBA history, an honor to be part of Spurs family. To all the staff, my teammates, the coaches, RC, Pop and, above all, the fans, thank you for making this place so special. #GoSpursGo!”
The Bucks also will need to clear a roster spot. They signed point guard Isaiah Canaan to a 10-day contract Monday to help add some depth, with three guards — George Hill, Sterling Brown and Donte DiVincenzo — out due to injuries. Canaan, due to his contract situation, is the only reasonable choice when it comes to who to cut to make room for Gasol.
According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, if Gasol signs Sunday after clearing waivers, the Bucks will be about $546,000 under the luxury tax. Tony Snell’s contract includes $500,000 in bonuses that would be triggered by a certain number of wins and team playoff success, which if paid out would still keep the Bucks barely under the luxury tax
Gasol, a six-time all-star and two-time NBA champion, played in just 27 games for the Spurs this season. He missed 26 consecutive games in November and December due to a stress fracture in his left foot.
When he has played this season, Gasol has had a minor role, averaging a career-low 12.2 minutes per game while younger frontcourt players such as Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl have been bigger contributors off the bench. Gasol’s 4.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game are the lowest of his 18-year career. His smaller role reportedly led him to the bargaining table with the Spurs, hoping to negotiate a contract buyout in order to find a better fit elsewhere.
How exactly Gasol will fit in Milwaukee remains to be determined. The Bucks shored up their frontcourt at the trade deadline with the addition of Nikola Mirotic — a former teammate of Gasol’s on the Spanish national team.
The Bucks have Brook Lopez as their starting center alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, who nominally occupies the power forward position. Off the bench, coach Mike Budenholzer has used a mix of Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson, who each stands 6 feet, 10 inches tall, to spell Lopez at the center position or at times play alongside him.
Gasol could displace those players as the team’s backup center, allowing them to slide into a more natural position. It’s possible that Gasol’s addition could also mean fewer opportunities for the players in that group, with Ilyasova and Wilson representing the most likely players to slide out of the rotation.
Though he may be getting late in his NBA career, Gasol’s style fits what the Bucks have been doing this season. He’s a high-character, high-IQ player on both ends of the floor, is a career 36.9% shooter from three-point range and is both an effective and willing passer. He also carries a reputation as a great teammate and locker-room presence, something that’s sure to only enhance the current state of the Bucks’ drama-free locker room.
Gasol also brings something that no one else on the Bucks roster has — championship rings. He won titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010 and 2011. Among players currently on the Bucks’ roster, only George Hill has been on a team that has gone as far as the conference finals, including competing in the NBA finals last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I had the chance to talk to him a little bit,” Antetokounmpo said after Friday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers. “Unbelievable guy, great guy. He’s going to come in and lead. His toughness, it’s always good to have a second big guy because I think it’s kind of hard on this team right now not having a second five man. He’s played in playoff games, he’s been to the finals, he has so much experience I think he’s going to definitely help us. It was a great add by the front office and Coach Bud.”