Pau Gasol: Lakers Will Struggle to Adjust When Big Man Returns from Injury

Alex Kay@AlexPKayCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 27:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after his basket during a 106-95 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Lakers are finally back at .500 and look primed to make a playoff push in the latter portion of the 2012-13 campaign, but are in danger of undergoing another slump upon Pau Gasol’s eventual return.

Gasol has been out since February 5 when the Spaniard suffered a torn plantar fascia against the Brooklyn Nets. He’s slated to return in late March at the earliest (as per Rotoworld), which could coincide with some critical must-win games for the franchise.

If the seven-footer suits up by April 1, that would make him available for the final eight games of the regular season. However, his presence may be more of a burden than a boon for the team at that juncture.

Considering L.A. is 7-4 since Gasol injured his foot—including winning five of its last six—there is a distinct possibility that the squad is actually better off without the talented but plodding big man.

While some feel that Gasol and his career averages of 18.4 points and 9.2 rebounds would certainly be beneficial in the starting five over the inexperienced Earl Clark, the fact remains that the 32-year-old PF is slumping.

In 36 games this season, Gasol is averaging just 13.4 points and 8.0 rebounds while clearly struggling to find a place in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. He hasn’t been the fit that many envisioned next to Dwight Howard in the paint, and his usual rapport with Kobe Bryant has been damaged by his place in the offense.

The 12-year veteran has been working to make adjustments, but just can’t seem to contribute at the high level he is used to. However, due to his $19 million in salary, the organization is practically forced to use Gasol when he’s healthy.

Even if it's not for the entire contest (Gasol has sat out numerous fourth quarters under D'Antoni), there is likely going to be pressure from inside the organization to at least get him some minutes. 

It’s not the wrong call, as Pau could be key to making a deep playoff run, but it may cost the Lakers a chance at actually getting in.

If there are any slumps or struggles upon his return, L.A. could falter in crucial contests and cough up a chance to sneak into the Western Conference postseason.