When Pau Gasol arrived in the middle of the 2007-08 NBA season, the L.A. Lakers went on an absolute tear, rolling through the rest of the season, claiming the West’s first seed and winning the entire conference, suffering only three total losses along the way.
The pitiful crybabies and conspiracy theorists started bawling from the moment of Gasol’s arrival until about a month ago because they knew.
They knew what Gasol’s presence meant for that hungry Laker team desperate to return to prominence.
Gasol’s stellar play and his half-rockstar, half-biblical-12-disciples look revived that Laker “swag” that had been missing since that dreadful 2004 offseason.
Everything from Gasol’s subtle flair to the seamless way he fit into the offense showed Laker fans everywhere that they were witnessing history.
Gasol’s presence represented a quick and drastic change for a team that everyone had counted out.
Gasol now represents everything that has gone wrong.
Who knows? Maybe 2011 was never going to be the Lakers’ year, regardless.
No team in their right mind would choose to face off against those two in the NBA Finals.
Maybe the level of competition in the NBA had simply risen past the Lakers. Maybe.
But because of Pau Gasol we will never know for sure.
The Lakers could have gotten Gasol’s 13 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest from at least 30 other players in the NBA.
Those numbers simply were not going to get the job done for the second option on a team with title aspirations.
It’s not even as though Gasol had been going up against great defenses.
The already undersized New Orleans Hornets didn’t even have David West in their first-round matchup against the Lakers. Should I believe that they shut down a player of Gasol’s caliber with guys like Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry?
Or am I supposed to buy that Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks frontcourt were so defensively imposing that Gasol was incapable of finding a way to get the job done?
Thanks, but no thanks. Sell that to someone whose IQ isn’t in the double digits.
Pau Gasol simply quit. He succumbed to whatever the off-court issue was that plagued him, and the Lakers simply could not afford Gasol’s disappearance.
It’s not as though Gasol had been perfect during the Lakers’ previous three playoff runs, but no one called for his head then the way they are now. Why?
The lowest moments Gasol suffered during that stretch were the two series in which he had been badly outplayed by Kevin Garnett in 2008 and by Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010.
Yet these instances were quickly forgiven and were water under the bridge because Gasol’s effort was there, even when his aggression was not.
Still, those occasions were not isolated instances. Due mostly to his sleek, lanky physique, Gasol had been bullied by bigger stronger players on more than one occasion.
For this he was called soft.
Despite Gasol’s success and his critical contributions during those title runs he simply could not escape the “soft” label that he seemed destined to carry with him for the rest of his career.
But at least before the reasons that Gasol was labeled soft were physical.
Now, because of his excessively passive play in the postseason, Gasol has proven that the measures of his softness are at least partially mental too.
Gasol seemed utterly disinterested and did everything in his power to remain as uninvolved as he possibly could, dwindling the shot clock, passing off to other players even when he had established himself on the block and just moving around lackadaisically without any sense of urgency.
By the time the Lakers had advanced to the second round to face Dallas, you could forget it.
Gasol had clocked out entirely and in doing so he ruined Phil Jackson’s final campaign and consequently the Lakers’ last good shot at a ring.
So how does this make him expendable?
Well, aside from the simple fact that he quit once and could do so again, his play has given legitimate reason to doubt whether the Lakers can win another title with him as the second option.
While I am aware that many would like to see the departure of Andrew Bynum, who has struggled with many injuries over the course of his young career, instead of Gasol, that would do nothing but compromise an already shaky interior defense.
Besides, if you had to pick, who would you rather have as a second option on offense:
- A physical big man with perennial All-Star potential, who plays with a chip on his shoulder and had the gumption to demand more shots (even if he was shut down by Kobe's haughty response) or
- A slightly more talented, yet infinitely less physical, less assertive big man who lacked the grit and the effort to make Dirk Nowitzki break a sweat?
As far as the Lakers’ other assets, Lamar Odom is the best bench player in basketball and represents the only semi-consistent effort they can claim outside of their starting lineup.
No Lamar Odom means almost no Laker depth and the one tangible thing you can take from the Lakers-Mavericks series is that the Lakers need a deeper, more consistent bench.
Ron Artest is still a good fit for the team, and may actually benefit from the absence of the triangle offense, but is no longer desirable enough to be the centerpiece in any trade that would benefit the Lakers.
After that, there’s Kobe Bryant but I think it’s pretty safe to say that he’ll be in L.A. next season.
This leaves us with Gasol, the most tangible (and increasingly expendable) asset the Lakers can offer.
Having said all of that, none of this means that there is even a good enough player or package available for the Lakers to make a move.
Don’t get me wrong, if any of these rumors about Dwight Howard’s interest in L.A. are true then Mitch Kupchak or (God forbid) Jim Buss would be foolish if they did not at least attempt to bring in Howard, who’s already established himself as an all-time talent, even for Bynum’s sake.
However, even if Dwight Howard really does want to join the Lakers, Magic GM Otis Smith wouldn’t exactly chauffeur Howard to the Staples Center and roll out the red carpet.
Worse, bringing on Howard would mean letting go of Bynum, not Gasol, as the skill sets between Howard and Bynum are too redundant and would only create a dearth of frontcourt balance.
Can you imagine either of those guys trying to masquerade as a power forward? Hell, can you imagine that team in transition? Way too slow.
Such a thought forces blood from the eyes.
Besides, the possibility of Howard joining the Lakers, particularly over this offseason, is a long shot at best, at worst it’s a pipe dream.
The Gasol-for-Chris Paul rumors aren’t much better.
And well, if you were Paul would you join an aging team with a mediocre, new coach sporting only five years of experience or head to a much younger team to play with your buddies in a fun, proven, offensively based system?
Yeah, I thought so.
The Gasol-for-Deron Williams rumors are the most quiet of the bunch, but perhaps the most plausible.
Unlike Howard or Paul, there's almost no chance that Williams is going to stay put, and his destination after his lease in New Jersey is up has not been set in stone.
Still, they say that you should never trade big for small—as the Jeff Green-coveting Celtics found out the hard way.
Maybe down the road a good deal for Gasol will emerge, until then the Lakers would be well served to stand pat.
Ultimately, it would be worse for the Lakers to jump the gun and trade Gasol away for less than his worth than it would be for them to keep him and the rest of the team intact, cross their fingers and hope the best.
But right now neither of those options look too tantalizing.