COMMENTARY| Pau Gasol had one of the most tumultuous seasons of his career last year and certainly his worst as a Laker.
The Spaniard struggled mightily all season long with a variety of problems. He suffered through multiple injuries to his foot and knees that kept him out of 33 games last year.
He was never able to develop good on-court chemistry with Dwight Howard for most of the season as well as limited his touches in the post so Howard could establish himself in the paint.
Gasol also had conflicting ideas with head coach Mike D’Antoni about his role with the team. Because they were not able to get on the same page initially, we saw Gasol’s role change each game. D’Antoni took him out of the post and used him like a “stretch four” hoisting threes from the perimeter. He even brought him off the bench for seven games, because he wanted the team to play at a faster pace by using a smaller lineup.
Last season was the culmination of all of the unexpected problems and headaches Gasol has had to endure since 2010, when the Lakers last won an NBA championship and he was one of the main reasons why.
It seemed he suddenly went from the focal point in the team’s offense to someone with a diminished role and a hindrance in the development of Andrew Bynum and cultivation of Howard.
Not to mention he was a part of that infamous, David Stern-vetoed three team deal in 2011 that would have sent him to the Houston Rockets and brought Chris Paul to the Lakers.
However, for all of the surprises and near-trades thrown at him, Gasol has survived every mentally and emotionally taxing obstacle while maintaining his professionalism and loyalty to the Lakers organization. Those terrific traits combined with his mutually devoted friendship with Kobe Bryant are the big reasons why Gasol still remains with the purple and gold.
Keeping the Spaniard could prove to be a powerful asset to the Lakers whether the team is successful or not this season.
WHY KEEPING PAU IS GOOD FOR TEAM
Gasol came into training camp 100 percent healthy from the plethora of injuries he suffered last year. He is also going to be playing much more in the post with Howard now in Houston.
This not only helps him get more touches to score, but more opportunities to be the tremendous, unselfish playmaker Laker fans have come accustomed to seeing for five seasons. With Bryant out for an unknown amount of time and Steve Nash’s questionable health, Gasol is the best option to facilitate the team’s offense.
He is still an extremely versatile player. He has an array of post moves, a deft touch around the rim, can shoot the mid-range jumper (he’s even got a three point shot going), and is a very skilled and willing passer which will helps his teammates get open looks from anywhere on the court.
Now that he is healthy and comfortable with his role in D’Antoni’s offense, Gasol is due to have an awesome season and return to that elite-level status that has made him a two-time NBA champion and one of the league’s best big men. He had some strong performances during the preseason and he and Chris Kaman have forged good on-court chemistry and are becoming a formidable 1-2 punch in the frontcourt.
“[Gasol] makes it easy,” said Kaman. “He makes it real easy, the way he can pass the ball and make plays for other people.” (Quote courtesy of Lakers.com).
There are very few big men in the league who can do all of the things Gasol does on a given night. For the Lakers to remain competitive in a stacked Western conference, he will need to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, and about six assists and most importantly stay healthy.
If Gasol has a monster season, there are still no guarantees the Lakers will be able to advance deep into the postseason. However, they have had so much success in recent years with by trusting him to make good decisions in the offense. With an enhanced role on the team this season, he will certainly give the Lakers a better chance to win.
WHY KEEPING PAU IS GOOD FOR FRONT OFFICE
Although he is due for another All-Star caliber season, the same cannot be said for all of Gasol’s teammates. Trading him will still be a possibility for GM Mitch Kupchak and team president Jim Buss if the Lakers are not in serious playoff contention by the trade deadline.
Gasol is owed more than $19 million this season and is in the final year of his contract. It is not likely the Lakers will trade him, especially if they have a winning team. However, if they are playing mediocre basketball all season, the Lakers will definitely entertain offers for Gasol and use that opportunity to shed his salary and minimize their enormous luxury tax bill.
If he posts the type of numbers we have seen throughout his career, Gasol’s trade value will be very high. Depending on the team that trades for him, the Lakers could get a nice assortment of younger, athletic wing players or first round draft picks to begin a rebuilding process.
Even if Gasol does not put up the type of numbers he is projected to, he will still be an attractive piece to other teams at the deadline. He owns a large expiring contract, which can help a team get under the salary cap. Also, he could be a difference maker for a team on the playoff bubble that could utilize his strengths and feature him more offensively.
It is hard to say for sure what the Lakers will do with Gasol in 2014, a season filled with many questions and doubts. However, we do know the talented seven foot Spaniard with the shaggy hair and scruffy beard can help the Lakers be a contender again whether he is on the team or not.