CHICAGO -- Pau Gasol has already filled the role of Carlos Boozer for the Chicago Bulls in more ways than one. Forget for a moment the impact he will have on the floor -- Gasol is the consolation prize in free agency, like Boozer was in the summer of 2010. He is a solid player who will make the Bulls better, but he isn't the man the Bulls had their hearts set on. That man would be Carmelo Anthony, who appears to be taking all the guaranteed money and staying with the New York Knicks.
Gasol is going to be a solid fit in Chicago. By all accounts, he seems like a great teammate, he's an NBA champion, one of the best passing big men in the game and will fit in well in the Bulls' no-nonsense locker room. But as fans process the flurry of free-agent activity that started Friday afternoon when LeBron James announced his decision to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the question now is how much better does Gasol make the Bulls? More importantly, does Gasol's addition give the Bulls a legitimate chance to win a title this season?
Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, but he also just turned 34 years old and missed chunks of the past two seasons because of injuries. His ability to create space on the floor because of his passing and vision should mesh well with Joakim Noah. Gasol also gives the Bulls a back-to-the-basket scorer, something they thought they were getting when they signed Boozer four summers ago.
Gasol is absolutely a better all-around player than Boozer, but he has never been known for playing consistent, high-level defense. Like Boozer, there's a solid chance Gasol could end up sitting late in the fourth quarter of games as coach Tom Thibodeau decides to go with one of the best defensive combos in the league in Noah and Taj Gibson. While Gasol isn't as defensively challenged as Boozer, he isn't the best option to close down games on this roster.
The larger issue with the Gasol deal is the same one it was going to be with any player the Bulls landed who wasn't Anthony: Does Gasol -- and Nikola Mirotic, assuming the Bulls finally hammer out a deal with the European star -- put the Bulls that much closer to a title? The Bulls would be a better, deeper team with Gasol and Mirotic in the fold, but the issue for them is the same: Who scores late baskets for them in the playoffs? Derrick Rose is expected to come back in fine form to start the season and has looked great in summer league practices, according to several people who have seen him play, but the Bulls have seen before how this story ends.
The interesting wrinkle about the Gasol news is that it likely pushes the Bulls out of the conversation for a potential deal with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love for now. With Gasol, Noah, Gibson and Mirotic likely headed to the NBA, the Bulls are loaded with big men and will still try to add a backup center in free agency.
Still, even if Rose stays healthy -- which is a huge "if" given he's played only 49 games the past three seasons because of various injuries -- Gasol isn't the type of "create your own shot" player the Bulls have been lacking. He's a skilled offensive big man who is past his prime. The Bulls still have a chance to contend in the weak Eastern Conference -- but the goal is to find ways to win championships. Gasol's addition puts them closer to that goal, but not by much.