Fresh off a rejuvenated tour de force in London this summer, Pau Gasol was supposed to join the NBA's newest dream team, thrive opposite the attention Dwight Howard demands down low and enjoy another dream season in Hollywood.
But like most every facet of the Lakers' season, things...well...haven't gone according to plan.
Last night in Chicago marked a new nadir in the most frustrating, schismatic season of Pau Gasol's career. He played just fine, tallying 15 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes, but he did so after coming off the bench.
Actually, let me rephrase that: He did so after coming off the bench in favor of Earl Clark.
The four-time All-Star is, understandably, troubled by his recent demotion, per TNT's Craig Sager:
Pau Gasol I talked to before the game. He is not at all happy with the decision. He says, 'I have never been a role player in my life and I don’t like it right now.' I said, 'what about the possibility that maybe your time with the Lakers could be coming to an end at the All-Star break or the trade deadline?' He said 'it certainly looks like a possibility to me.'
It's not good for anyone to have a disgruntled superstar sitting on the bench—especially a team whose season was already playing out like an episode of Passions. And given the stat Sager relayed earlier in his report (per D'Antoni, the Lakers' efficiency with Gasol and Howard on the court together is "between 26th and 28th in the league"), it would seem that retaining both centers long-term is untenable.
But panic-trading away a commodity as valuable as Pau? That, my friends, is always impossible to justify.
Why do I say panic trade? Because that's the only kind Los Angeles can afford to make. Like, literally afford to make. Per Yahoo! reporter Adrian Wojnarowski:
Trade market for Pau Gasol complicated because Lakers have made clear that they don't want back long-term money in deal, league sources say.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 22, 2013
Trading Gasol midseason would be a glorified salary dump. Nothing more. Management would spin some sort of convoluted, "This helps in the short term, too" kind of angle, but let's call a spade a spade.
If the Lakers won't accept any long-term contracts for Gasol, there's only one type of deal they can make. And that's the kind of deal where they give up a dollar for two or three quarters.
If the team really cares about its future, it'll practice what its offense doesn't preach—patience. It's exponentially easier to move pieces in the offseason, and often more fruitful, too.
Or maybe they could spend the summer rededicating themselves to making the current roster work? Like, you know, tailoring a system around this menagerie of NBA All-Stars, rather than trying to bludgeon square pegs into round holes.
With just a little bit of forward thinking, there have to be a few ways to make this roster competitive—there just have to be. But none of those methods involve dumping an All-Star just because he's sulking.
The Lakers know full well—poetically well—what happens when Pau Gasol gets traded for 30 cents on the dollar. Somebody else starts winning NBA Championships.
If Kobe wants to hoist another trophy in purple and gold, that's something the team can ill-afford to do.