AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Pau Gasol scored a season-high 31 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out three assists, blocked three shots and had one steal in 36 minutes of play Monday in the Chicago Bulls' much-needed 111-101 win over the Detroit Pistons.
If the Bulls were smart and wanted to start planning for their future instead of getting landlocked in the present, it would be one of the last times Gasol put up those kinds of numbers in a Bulls uniform. If Joakim Noah's likely season-ending left shoulder injury has taught the Bulls' front office anything in recent days it should be that every minute Gasol is on the floor represents a stock that could bottom out at any time. Gasol is a luxury that the Bulls no longer need. He was brought in last summer to help this team contend for a championship. But without Noah, and with the Bulls still riding a season-long wave of inconsistency, there's little reason Gasol should stay in Chicago past the trade deadline on Feb. 18.
The trade market for a 35-year-old big man is never going to be very big, but Gasol is a highly skilled offensive player who comes with the cache of two NBA championship rings and years of big-game experience in both the NBA playoffs and international competitions while leading Spain. He is a proud player who wants to win another ring or two before his time in the league is complete. As much as many Bulls fans hope their team -- which is now 9-2 on the season without Noah -- still has a chance to win without the emotional curly-haired big man, the reality is that the Bulls probably weren't good enough even when Noah was healthy.
With that in mind, the Bulls have two options when it comes to Gasol's short-term future. Either Bulls GM Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson can decide to keep Gasol on the roster and try to squeeze out a potential series win in the playoffs, or they can act swiftly and try to get something of value for a player who can still deliver on the offensive end.
What complicates the situation is that Gasol has a player option after this season which would allow him to opt out of his contract. The Bulls have known for a long time that he was probably going to opt out of the deal and evaluate his options, especially with the enormous television money filtering into the league in the coming years. So the Bulls must decide whether a couple extra postseason wins for a team that isn't likely going to reach its ultimate goal is worth risking getting something in return.
Part of the decision of any deal is what the Bulls may get back in return. But the argument could be made that even if there was a deal for a couple of second-round picks and an expiring contract, it still puts them in a better situation than if Gasol were to walk at the end of the season and they were to get nothing in return. What good is winning a series in the playoffs if a team knows internally that it isn't good enough to win a title in the same season? Even if a deal brought back only a couple lowly draft picks, those are still assets that the Bulls could use in another potential move down the line.
It will be up to Forman and Paxson to continue working the phones in hopes of finding the right match to move Gasol on to greener pastures if they so desire. In the meantime, after 14 years in the league, Gasol doesn't give off the impression that his game will be affected by the speculation around his future.
"You have to understand it's part of this league and part of this business," Gasol said of handling trade rumors. "It's not the most comfortable nor the most pleasant situation to be in. But you just got to every day go and do your job and do it the best way you can. Carry yourself as a professional and control what you can control. When there's continuous rumors -- and I've been there -- it's hard. Every time it seems like there's something up or ... It's not pleasant but you have to understand that it is what it is and you just do what you can do to be who you are and be the player that you are. And if something happens then so be it, you move on. It's unfortunate, but it happens quite a bit in this league."
The other upside of moving Gasol for Forman and Paxson would be that it would allow rookie Bobby Portis even more of an opportunity to showcase his skills. After a promising stretch late last month in the rotation, Portis has cooled to the tune of just three minutes in Monday's win, and just 33 combined minutes over the past five games. With Noah out, Portis was supposed to get an even bigger chance, but that hasn't been the case as of yet.
Coach Fred Hoiberg remains steadfast in his belief that Portis will get plenty of minutes without Noah, but a move to shed Gasol would allow Portis the space that he needs. As Hoiberg noted, Portis has struggled at least in part because of the fact that his talent has placed him on opponents' scouting reports now.
"I think with Bobby, the big thing is teams know him now," Hoiberg said. "They know he's a guy that can score -- before he was an unknown a little bit just based on seeing him in college if anybody watched him there. So I think that's a lot of it, is teams understand who he is. Bobby's going to keep working, I know that. He's got really good days ahead."
Speaking of which, a Gasol deal would also give Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Bairstow more of a chance to play as well. Players and coaches have raved about Felicio's upside since training camp and continually praise Bairstow's work ethic. Neither are a player of Gasol's caliber and likely never will be, but both would benefit from a Gasol trade because there would be more minutes to go around. If the Bulls are truly high on Felicio, what better way to see what he can do than by giving him a trial run off the bench for a few minutes a game in the second half of the season?
The Bulls can't risk having another situation in which a player walks away for basically nothing as was the case with Omer Asik and Kyle Korver during the summer of 2012. Those two moves were more salary-cap related than this one would be, but they all center around the future instead of getting too caught up in the present. The Bulls are a good team that can win more games this season if they stay relatively healthy, but they aren't a legitimate title contender.
No matter what they were to get back for Gasol, it would be better than watching him wave goodbye after a playoff exit and being left empty-handed once again.