When the Atlanta Hawks drafter a lanky Pau Gasol with the 3rd pick in the 2001 draft, the native of Barcelona arrived on the NBA scene with four years with his hometown pro squad already under his belt. His list of accolades before he touched an NBA floor read like an illustrious career, including winning both Mister Europa and FIBA Europe Player of the Year twice, as well as European Player of the Year seven times. He ended his rookie season as 2002’s best newcomer and made the All-Rookie First Team. His arrival to the Lakers, after leading the Grizzlies into the NBA Playoffs for three consecutive years, marked a cataclysmic shift in the history of both team and player.
The Lakers always seem to acquire the right amount of talent to take a team to the next level. Pau, having never won a single playoff game in 12 tries, brought a hunger and a skill set that would garner both parties two more O’Brien’s. Yet, in recent years, despite all of his accomplishments, Pau finds himself on the trading block.
Even though conflicting reports have him half way out of the door, or on his way out contingent on his performance with the return of Nash, Pau’s name swirls around the rumor mill with regularity. Whether it is during the courting of Dwight Howard, returning to LA in a veto of the Chris Paul trade, or headlining deals for Andrea Bargnani or Derrick Williams, Gasol cannot seem to get any respect for his contributions to the Laker organization. He seems to bare more of the blame than the benefits.
So, what does a player do when the equipment manager starts to hover around his locker and his coach sits him in crunch time?
Take the latter out to dinner in Manhattan Beach.
For now, Pau must play the team game, even if the team appears to be giving up on him. There is really nothing that Pau, or anyone for that matter, can do about the direction that Buss 2 is going to take the team. His focus is on Showtime 2, and Pau’s achy knees just don’t factor in. The Lakers’ brass desperately wants to get younger and shed some numbers off of the salary cap for Dwight’s contract and years of upcoming free agency. Once Kobe’s contract is off of the books, then a vast potential of deals could make even Chick come back to call some games.
Do the Lakers have a legit shot at a future with LeBron, if he opts out in two seasons, or a 2013 reunion with CP3, if he doesn’t re-up? Do they free up space to chase Josh Smith, bringing in a friend for Dwight to play with, as a devastating wing finisher and paint protector? Do they bring back steadily improving Meeks, Morris, and Ebanks, or bring in veteran shooters like Allen, Korver, or Mason, Jr. to space the floor for Dwight? Do they even sign Dwight, especially the way the season has been going?
Lotsa questions, Lakerholicz, and, unfortunately, there is still very little evidence 26 games into the season about any of the options that are on the table. Say Nash comes back and Pau experiences a re-birth and improves on his dwindling 12 points and almost 9 rebounds per game averages. Let’s just say that all of the pieces fall into place and the Lakers make some absurd run and string some wins in a row against quality squads. Let’s just say that Pau gets minutes in the clutch, grabs some key boards, drops in a few key hooks and layups, and hits some late free throws to seal a few of those victories. What now? Ship him out? Get a better deal because his upside trends upwards?
The Lakers signed Pau and Kobe to contracts that expired together because of the chemistry they have together. The Lakers brought in Nash and Dwight together because of the potential pick and roll chemistry that they can have together. As of yet, these pairings have not been able to perform together at peak efficiency, if at all, so an honest and objective evaluation of the progress of this team remains largely on paper or echoing garbled perspectives on the airways.
Let’s just say we give this team some time to actually play together without the roof caving in and see what happens, at least until February 21st, which just happens to follow the conclusion of the Lakers’ longest road trip of the season against Miami.