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Spurs land player they coveted all along in Pau Gasol

SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs eased into the sweepstakes for Kevin Durant last week knowing they faced long odds of actually acquiring him.

That's part of the reason why the main goal all along was to land Pau Gasol, a goal they achieved Monday afternoon when the veteran big man agreed to a two-year deal worth more than $30 million.

Gasol posted a tweet Tuesday, saying he "was looking forward to this new chapter."

The team's pursuit of Gasol represented yet another page from the San Antonio handbook. According to a league source, the Spurs indeed "went hard after KD," and the team walked away pleased with its pitch. Even knowing the nearly impossible odds involved, the Spurs took the process seriously because they viewed it as a rare opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with one of the best players of this generation.

Still, all along, San Antonio's main objective was Gasol.

In fact, minutes after the Durant news first broke, an NBA source said the team would be "very, very happy" to land Gasol because the Spurs view him as "a great fit."

The move makes sense, too, given the uncertainty regarding the possible return of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who recently opted into his contract for the 2016-17 season yet hasn't made a decision about whether to play or retire. With that uncertainty hovering and the fact that San Antonio long ago knew Duncan could be hanging it up, the Spurs -- as they always do -- started looking into contingency plans when mapping out their strategy for free agency.

"We've been building scenario-planning, not just for this season but for every season," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said after the NBA draft last month. "You have a variety of scenarios you hope you can execute on that are sequenced and need things to happen along the way.

Despite coming up empty in the hunt for Durant, the Spurs got off to a promising start in free agency.

Sure, Gasol's skills on defense pale in comparison to what Duncan might be able to provide when healthy, if he decides to return. But on the opposite end, the new acquisition brings the offensive weaponry the Spurs demonstrated was sorely needed during their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Thunder exposed the Spurs' need for at least one more capable scorer by cutting off the lines to the shooters, in addition to clogging up the lane while forcing LaMarcus Aldridge off his spots. With a player such as Gasol at the 5 in place of Duncan, David West or Boris Diaw -- who was traded to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, first reported by The Vertical and confirmed by ESPN's Marc Spears -- San Antonio appears to have added more juice on offense.

At this point in his career, Gasol appears to be a significant upgrade over the skilled Diaw because of his ability to create, make plays and attack mismatches on offense. Yes, the Spurs sacrifice some of their stopping power on defense by adding Gasol. But throughout their franchise-record 67-win regular season and subsequent postseason run, the Spurs demonstrated plenty of ability to shut down opponents. They just couldn't consistently score with them.

So even though San Antonio struck out on Durant, it walks away from the opening wave of NBA free agency feeling like a winner because the Spurs locked down the player they coveted all along.

They now need to re-sign Manu Ginobili and gain some clarity on Duncan's situation. The Spurs hoped to bring back West, who recently opted out of his deal. But West will sign a one-year deal with Golden State.

"We'll be ready to answer the questions that are posed to us to hopefully find pieces within our abilities within collective bargaining that will help us build a competitive team," Buford said. "It's way too early to know what next year looks like. We're still waiting on some awareness of what some of the past season's team will be involved. I don't know that we can dictate that until we have clarity on our previous roster."