The Los Angeles Lakers were ravaged by injuries throughout a tumultuous 2012-13 season, with all five starters missing significant portions of time.
For a team with such high expectations, a first-round sweep in the playoffs seemed unfathomable before the year began, and it could very easily be viewed as the end of an era. But the LA brass are reportedly honed in on retaining All-Star power forward Pau Gasol—and wisely so.
According to a report by Mark Heisler of LakersNation.com, sources with knowledge of the situation indicate that it is "Plan A" to retain Gasol and the rest of the Lakers' stars from this season.
Gasol is an easy scapegoat for the way the Lakers' disappointing campaign went. Not only was he out with a concussion early on, but he then missed many games with a painful foot injury in the middle of the season.
He also had to adjust on the fly to head coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offensive attack, and the "Seven Seconds or Less" style isn't for everyone.
Molding Gasol's game to the system was far easier said than done—especially for a big man who relies more on finesse in the post and interior passing for most of his production. For a long time, Gasol was a square peg unsuccessfully fitting into a round hole.
It even prompted Lakers legendary PG Magic Johnson to chime in and say that Gasol was being misused as early as December:
Trade buzz persisted around Gasol at the deadline, partially due to his injuries, seemingly declining skills and uncomfortable feel in D'Antoni's offense. However, GM Mitch Kupchak held onto one of his franchise cornerstone. Kupchak's patience wound up being rewarded significantly.
As the end of the season approached, though, something clicked. Even when Kobe Bryant went down with his Achilles injury, it's not as if Gasol gave up. In fact, he raised his play even more down the stretch.
In eight April games, the 32-year-old forward averaged 17.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.3 blocks per contest. If there is a better alternative out there for LA, who is it? Bryant certainly doesn't feel the Lakers should bounce Gasol out of town:
After all, it was Gasol who, in the five years since he arrived in the City of Angels, has been a key contributor on back-to-back NBA championship-winning teams. Given the chemistry he and Bryant have, it would be ridiculous to get rid of any of the Lakers' talented nucleus of stars.
The pace of the Lakers' offense slowed down some down the stretch of the regular season—and it actually worked, as LA went 28-12 to snag the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference.
Unfortunately, any aspirations for a decent postseason push were thwarted in four games by the mighty San Antonio Spurs. The short-handed Lakers were outmatched—even with Gasol and Howard finding unprecedented chemistry.
Even though there was no chance LA would win the series from a 3-0 hole and he could have just mailed it in, Gasol made the effort to take the court in Game 4 with a torn finger ligament, per the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding:
Any question about Gasol's toughness or desire to win should be put to bed with that action, which in this case most certainly speaks louder than words.
This extremely talented crop of stars with Gasol, Howard, Bryant and Steve Nash never got a chance to truly gel. This is a contract year for Gasol, and if he truly is getting moved, he will be playing hard regardless.
Breaking up this talented bunch would be a mistake, and given Gasol's value as a versatile power forward capable of distributing and quickening ball movement, he will be vital to any success the Lakers enjoy next season.