Pau Gasol's status with the Los Angeles Lakers is under constant scrutiny.
Gasol is the fanbase's common scapegoat. He hasn't been healthy, and he hasn't even been that good when he is healthy. Some of the criticism is unfounded, but Gasol must find a way to help the Lakers improve on their meager start to the season.
According to Sporting News reporter Tom Gatto, "Pau Gasol says it's "a possibility" he could return to the Los Angeles' Lakers lineup next week."
But, what role will he return too? Antawn Jamison has started at power forward in his stead, averaging just over eight points and just under five rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, the Lakers' bench has struggled mightily. There isn't a go-to scorer to be found, making this report by Los Angeles Times reporter Mike Bresnahan interesting:
The Lakers are debating whether to bring Pau Gasol off the bench when he returns from knee tendinitis, said a person familiar with the team's thinking. The Lakers are trying to decide how a demotion to the bench would affect Gasol. If they determined it would be adverse, they'd keep him in the starting lineup.
As Bresnahan notes, Gasol is "averaging 12.6 points and shooting only 42%, both career lows." He's had trouble adapting to Mike D'Antoni's system, and it has showed, but that doesn't mean that he can't be valuable to this team.
The Lakers aren't going to get better with a viable bench. Leaving Jamison in the starting lineup would add another dangerous perimeter shooter to the starting mix, while allowing Gasol to bolster the second unit.
The big man would fit nicely next to Jordan Hill's defense-first mentality and give the group someone to lean on for a key bucket. He wouldn't be expected to carry a major load, like he is as a starter, and that could also ensure his long-term health.
Los Angeles has several improvements that it must make to turn this slow start around, but it's fooling itself if it thinks Gasol isn't a major part of that. He's a benefit to the team, not a detriment, but something must change at least on a temporary basis to maximize his value to the squad.
Amar'e Stoudemire has run into the same problem with the New York Knicks. It's a little different because of the team's success, but a guy that's used to starting could be asked to take a step back for the betterment of the team.
According to ESPN's Ian Begley, Stoudemire is OK with it, and, hopefully, Gasol would be too.
Moving Gasol to the bench would benefit Los Angeles. The starting lineup would be just fine without him, and the team's weak reserve unit would improve dramatically.
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