Pau Gasol: Lakers Forward Is Most Misunderstood Player in NBA

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14: Pau Gasol #16 (L) and Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers sit on the bench during the second half of the Lakers game against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on December 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Can't we all leave Pau Gasol alone?

For years now, the Los Angeles Lakers forward has been the subject of endless trade rumors. Before that, he was accused of being soft when it was popular among certain NBA fans to accuse European players of lacking fortitude.

And now, he's the guy who has to go in L.A. He's the guy who doesn't fit. He's the guy who is going to throw a wrench in the Lakers team for the ages.

Frankly, it's all been pretty absurd. 

It's not Gasol's fault that he is at his best on the block, and the Lakers have chosen to build around centers like Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, who need to be the main option down low. Even Kobe Bryant has admitted Gasol needs to be utilized more in the post. 

It's not Gasol's fault that Mike D'Antoni's offensive system works better with a stretch 4, a player capable of hitting shots from the perimeter and forcing the defense to expand. That's simply not Gasol's game.

And it's not Gasol's fault that he's easily the best trade chip the Lakers had. If things don't work out, he's the right combination of being valuable enough to ensure a solid return and expendable enough in this system to ensure the Lakers won't be seriously affecting team chemistry or productivity.

See, I don't have a problem with people speculating that Gasol might be moved. I get it. I just have an issue with how Gasol has seemingly been devalued in people's eyes, as though he suddenly isn't an elite power forward in this league.

Put him in the right system, and you'll get the player that has averaged 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in his career, not the player averaging 12.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest (when he's healthy) this season.

Even Magic Johnson has said as much (via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN):

"When Gasol was on that (low) block, he averaged 18 points, he shot 53 percent from the field and he still is the best passing big man in the game," Johnson said Tuesday, shortly after introducing [Dodgers pitcher Zack] Greinke at a news conference at Dodger Stadium. "But you have him at the free-throw line? That makes no sense. That's not his game.

"His game is to catch it on the low block, face his man, one dribble left or right. He's got great moves. But now all the blame is on his shoulders, like he's not performing well? He can't take that. That's not who he is.

It's time we stopped for a moment and recognized what Gasol is—a very good player who has been limited by the system he's in and injuries, and has been cast as the most expendable part on a team that has dramatically underachieved this season.

He's the scapegoat, in other words. For some reason, he's been a scapegoat in this league for years. Poster child for the "soft" accusations leveled at European players. Consistent trade target for impatient fans despite his role in two NBA titles for L.A.

And now, he's somehow the main problem in a mish-mash of players who may not be complementary in a system that might not fit the talent.

Let's just all leave Gasol alone for a little while, shall we?


Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets got game. And game recognize game. I see you, Pau.

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