Gasol has two years remaining on his five-year, $110 million contract he signed in 2020. The veteran big man could opt out at season’s end – he is owed $25.595 million next season if he does not.
The Grizzlies hierarchy were open with Gasol, and Mike Conley, about their desire to rebuild. They looked set to compete for a playoff spot this season, but a poor run has put them out of contention ahead of the deadline.
This trade follows big moves from Toronto’s rivals in the East. Philadelphia landed Tobias Harris and Milwaukee picked up Nikola Mirotic, while Boston were left holding on their assets as they wait to put in an offer for Anthony Davis this summer.
The departure of Valanciunas could see Serge Ibaka, who has been starting most games at centre, drop to the bench as backup for Gasol. Ibaka could shift back to power forward with Gasol at centre, but that leaves Pascal Siakam (who is a borderline All-Star this season) as the odd man out. It’s unlikely Siakam is moved out of the starting line-up.
It’s possible, though this might be a longshot, that Gasol comes off the bench, splitting minutes evenly with Ibaka.
Whatever happens with rotations and line-ups, Toronto have plenty more to do. This leaves their roster at 11, meaning they need to find three players from somewhere. Their starting five will be strong, but they need to be active in the buyout market.
This is the end of an era for Memphis, losing perhaps the greatest player in their franchise’s history. For Gasol, it’s a chance to make another deep playoff run. Toronto get a big man who can pass, shoot the three and has a decent career record against the biggest inside threat in the Eastern Conference: Joel Embiid.