The Chicago Bulls are all but eliminated from the playoffs, a thoroughly disappointing result for a team that got at least 64 games out of both Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose for the first time ever. It’s a frankly unacceptable result for a roster with this kind of talent and experience, and it has multiple people within the organization questioning the viability of this core. Pau Gasol has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season, and he’s asking those same questions.
Asked whether he’s coming back next season, Gasol explained to ESPN’s Nick Friedell:
“Nothing is set right now,” Gasol said after the game. “Definitely, I will evaluate what I need to when the time comes. But the way the team has responded to adversity and the way we finished up the season has not been so far great, and it’s been disappointing. So at the end of the day, when the time comes, I will evaluate things. It’s hard to finish the season like this. It’s not finished, but we’re in a very, as we know, extremely difficult position, so everything will be thought of and considered.”
ESPN reported that Pau previously said his decision would rest on the Bulls’ performance down the stretch, and that performance has been abysmal. They’ve gone 16-24 since Joakim Noah went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, and their defense has cratered in the absence of their anchor in the middle. Gasol has to shoulder his share of the blame for that, but he scored and rebounded well enough to make the All-Star team this season, and he should have offers this summer from a few teams in better position to contend than Chicago.
Noah is also a free agent, and while it once seemed unlikely he’d leave the only franchise he’s ever known, this has truly been a disheartening season in Chicago, one in which Rose and Butler have performed at their best only when the other isn’t on the court. Gasol even echoed questions a lot of observers have had about the locker room:
“You could say transitioning from one coaching staff to another affected [things]. You could say injuries had an effect. You could say guys didn’t want it bad enough. I don’t know. Things that are critical I think and important, but to what percentage, I don’t know.”
The Bulls’ front office is going to have to ask some tough questions, and one of them is: Do they even try to bring Pau Gasol back?