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Lakers, Marc Gasol, Frank Vogel, Andre Drummond

Should the Lakers buyout Marc Gasol?

Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer dropped this tidbit in his reporting on the Lakers and Andre Drummond sweepstakes:

As much as Marc Gasol’s subpar contributions helped lead Los Angeles to pursue Drummond, Gasol remains under contract. There remains some speculation from rival executives that he could now come to a buyout agreement with the Lakers.

The notion of a Gasol buyout, while far from certain, shouldn’t come as a total surprise.

The scuttlebutt around the Lakers seeking frontcourt depth began in February before Anthony Davis re-aggravated his calf.

In early March, The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported that the Lakers were unsatisfied with Gasol’s performance. Vogel acknowledged Sunday night that the Lakers had been eyeing Drummond since he was shelved in Cleveland.

Beginning on Wednesday, Drummond will take over as the Lakers’ starting center.

In his 15th season, Gasol has started in all 38 of his appearances for the Lakers, and the veteran has been a polarizing figure on #LakersTwitter throughout the season. Clinical dishes, bricked open threes, effective defensive positioning, and painful blow-bys. His top-line numbers are underwhelming — 4.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game — though he’s more valuable than that.

In theory, Gasol spaces the floor, but he’s made just 35.7 of wide-open threes in 2020-21, almost all his looks. He’s made over 62% of his shots near the basket but takes fewer than one per game. An athletic lob threat/hard-diver at the five makes the Lakers a more dynamic team unless Gasol is going to be a dead-eye.

The defensive metrics will tell you that he’s a better rim-protector than it looks. Still, his lack of foot-speed and verticality undeniably diminishes his defensive impact. Again: it’s just different without an explosive leaper, like Drummond, down low.

In the playoffs, Davis will slide to the five for heavy minutes, sharing most of those with Kyle Kuzma or James at the 4. AD and Drummond will start together then stagger, with Drummond holding down the fort on the second unit alongside 6’8 Montrezl Harrell (or James/Kuzma/Markieff Morris). In other words: there won’t be room for two seven-footers in the rotation.

Until then, the short-handed Lakers need scorers on the court, plain and simple. Drummond (17.5 PPG) may see up to 30 minutes, right away. How Vogel balances the bigs will be a fascinating subplot going forward.

“We’re gonna need ’em all,” Vogel said on Sunday. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re gonna need all three of them.”

Most likely, he’ll find time for everybody until the playoffs. With Drummond in the mix, though, Gasol eventually losing his spot in the rotation feels like an inevitability.

“I’m just here to help in whatever capacity, I’m not here to steal anybody’s shine,” Drummond said at his intro presser. “Just here to help this team win as many games as possible.”

A buyout though? I don’t buy it.

Gasol still holds value for L.A. Unlike Drummond, the Spaniard is steady from the line (78.6%), so Vogel may prefer him late in games if he wants a traditional center. He can bang and foul against Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, or Rudy Gobert.

Secondly: Are the Lakers really going to sign two more players? They currently have one empty roster spot, which will presumably be filled by a 3-and-D or Avery Bradley. With so little practice time (today is their 12th practice of the season) and their rotations warped without the stars, incorporating one or two major pieces may be challenging enough. But three?

Of course, if Gasol wants a buyout, that’s a different story.

The 35-year old recently overcame a harrowing bout with COVID-19 that infected his household. It’s possible he’d rather prioritize health, for now. Or, maybe he gets wind that another team could offer a bigger role.

A buyout is far more feasible if it comes per Gasol’s request. The Big Spaniard signed a two-year minimum deal, so, while cash isn’t the issue, a buyout now won’t help ease the coming luxury tax bill (a possible concern). The franchise can easily afford to retain him, assuming Trezz and Drummond sign elsewhere (not a guarantee, apparently).

For what it’s worth, Vogel said Tuesday that there have been no talks between Gasol and the team regarding a buyout.

“We’ve not talked about that … He’s been a true pro,” Vogel said. “We’re gonna need all three of our centers throughout this playoff push, this championship run.”

Everybody roots for Gasol and Vogel said he’s “loved” in the locker room. But it’s not 2013.

Objectively, Gasol is no longer good enough to start for a contender. However, he instantly becomes the best third-string center in basketball. He knows the system, and it would surprise no one if he made a few big plays in any playoff scenario.

At the very least, Gasol is premium, low-cost insurance the Lakers can trust. As long as he’s happy to stay on board, he holds more than enough value to keep around. If he asks out, though, you can’t blame him.