The Pau of Los Angeles

Danny Chau —  October 29, 2012

I’d like to welcome Danny Chau as a contributor to FB&G. He’ll be joining us from time to time to write on the Lakers, basketball in general and, if we’re lucky, what he ate for lunch and where he got it. Danny brings a unique and incredibly thoughtful writing voice to the game we love and his L.A. roots make him well versed on what the Lakers mean to the city and the league at large. We’re lucky to have him. You can find more of Danny’s work at Hardwood Paroxysm and you can follow him on twitter here. His first effort is on Pau Gasol. Enjoy.

A nationally broadcasted Lakers game wouldn’t be complete without the panned-out shot of the ubiquitous Hollywood sign, standing tall and inert as it has been for almost 90 years. Hollywood is the spiritual home of the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with a history of blockbusters and A-list celebrities — and that doesn’t count the stars who attend home games. The team is one of the most recognizable in all of sports, and the idea of Hollywood is one of America’s most important and enduring cultural exports. It’s a symbiotic relationship that begets continued dominance.

With the introduction of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers have their highest-profile team in almost a decade. The team, if the Hollywood spirit is still alive and well, will be among championship favorites just from the breadth of their star power. And in one fell swoop, Pau Gasol, once the team’s unquestioned second option, becomes the fourth player mentioned in any Lakers conversation. Naturally, he takes it in stride. After all, after a couple years of dealing with serious trade rumors and internal strife, it’s probably a blessing just to be standing as a Laker.

But Gasol’s relationship with dominance—and with those who expect him to dominate—has been tenuous at best, nonexistent at worst. Three consecutive trips to the Finals (with each one incrementally better than the last) as Kobe Bryant’s right hand man can do wonders for a player’s image, but Gasol has found out how soon the heaps of praise can wither when expectations are stacked too high. In four years time, he shed the “soft” label and then, once again, emerged as one of the softest players in the league. This is no small feat given the timeframe.

However, it seems most can agree that Gasol’s role in on this season’s team will be a positive for all parties involved. But if Kobe, Dwight, and Steve keep the team Hollywood as Hell, where does that leave Pau? I suppose with the rest of Los Angeles — a county that doesn’t always have the luster of its internationally-recognized focal point, but one with a compelling collective narrative all its own.

Los Angeles is a sprawl — as iconic as New York but nowhere near as condensed.  It’s a result of centuries of various ethnic migrations and subsequent white flight. Good, bad, or neither, it’s how the county became the cultural jigsaw it is today. Each city is its own archive; many of which are part of a grander story of how the underrepresented can still cultivate vibrant communities in spite of external forces. It’s a collection of compartmentalized clusters loosely sutured together by the freeway system.

Navigating through the county is a lifelong endeavor, and there are many who have made it their life’s work to map out as much of L.A’s everchanging landscape as humanly possible. Of course, food is a convenient way to experience much of L.A.’s cultural diversity. But it’ll take a drive. In the day time, head to the Harvard Heights district for a pupusa; at night, have as many tacos as you can handle from the taco tables that line Pico Blvd. Less than five miles away is Langer’s, where you will get some of the best pastrami anywhere on earth. Neighboring cities Gardena and Torrance are about 20 miles south, home to many stellar mom-and-pop ramen shops. A few miles east is Bludso’s BBQ in Compton, where I would suggest the Texas Sampler (bring a friend, or five) and the mac and cheese.  And I’d be thoughtless to neglect the San Gabriel Valley, my home, which in my unbiased opinion has the best regional Chinese and Taiwanese fare in America.

(Oh, and one of the best burritos I’ve ever eaten was from a small little shack in La Puente, an almost exclusively Latino community. It’s a family business owned and operated by a Korean father and son, obviously.)

It’s all worth taking in. It just requires time and patience and gas.

Pau is reading The Taoof Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Actually, he’s probably finished it by now. He’s not exactly taking up Daoist teachings from the source, but it’s a start. The core beliefs of Daoism center on the idea of flow and wu-wei, the way of being natural, of uncontrived action. Phil Jacksonsaid Gasol is the oil that makes the machine run. Kobe has said similar things in the past. Despite being lower on the chain of command, Gasol is the only player of the without a rigid set of objectives in the system. We have a good idea of what Dwight will bring to the team, and we know that Kobe, regardless of system, won’t be deviating far from what has made him the player he is. Nash’s historic shooting and pick and roll ability will both be viable at the beginning of any possession and as safety blankets when options begin to crumble. In an offense that won’t key in on strict sets and a defense with the most intimidating stopper in the league, Gasol will need to fluidly switch in and out of his many compartments to keep the Lakers steady. That means being a dual threat from the high post, defending the opposition’s best big man to give Howard the freedom to make plays elsewhere, and remaining aggressive on scoring opportunities.

A Gasol that can and does do everything on the court isn’t beyond the realm of possibility — he’s done it before. His game is understated; as understated as it can be when he’s basically good at everything. It’s easy to focus on Gasol’s startling passivity last year and how his role as a facilitator seemed to overshadow the rest of his game (never mind that Gasol averaged more shots a game than in any previous season as a Laker). With Andrew Bynum’s emergence over the last two seasons, Gasol adapted to the shift in focus in a sensible manner. Compartmentalizing his game allowed Bynum to blossom, but in sealing off portions of his game for the sake of continuity, he ceased to be the player the team needed. And when you’re playing alongside an obsessive maniac, dips in assertiveness are magnified. It’s baffling to consider Gasol the “glue guy” on this team when he is still among the league’s top talents, but he is. He’s the freeway system that can connect the team’s newfound diversity.

Pau is entering his fifth full season as a Laker, but there still seems to be a disconnect between the player he is and the player fans are expecting. In the new offense, perhaps Gasol’s freer role can serve as a reminder of why Gasol has been so integral to the Lakers’ success. With Howard and Nash soaking up a larger portion of the spotlight, it’s a good season to stop and appreciate the nuance of Gasol’s vision and footwork and balance. The team’s new look promises Michael Bay-esque explosions on screen. Gasol should ensure that the dialogue won’t be half bad either.

That Hollywood sign is why many come to Los Angeles, but you stay for the rest of it. Los Angeles is dense, but it rewards your effort. So take a drive. Maybe put on the new Kendrick Lamar album. The world of Los Angeles can’t be taken in all at once. There’s just too much there hidden from plain sight and so much left undiscovered. Absorb the experience in bits and pieces, and live without ever expecting to complete the jigsaw. If that sounds like an endeavor worth undertaking, then there’s one reason why Pau Gasol is worth rooting for.

Danny Chau

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25 responses to The Pau of Los Angeles

  1. Great read! Gotta love Los Angeles! Welcome to the team Danny!

  2. danny: i can’t believe you find the home made burritos at that little shack called ? in la puente the best you’ve ever eaten? better than el tepeyac’s manual special in city terrace/boyle heights; depending on which side of the street you’re standing? having said that, mexican food is my favorite and i’m always open to new and someone else’s favorite. after all, i find all the so called mexican food restaurants/stands east of los angeles and in particular, orange, ca average at best.

    welcome to the forum blue and gold and now we got somebody new to pick on, i mean share ideas with. the timing couldn’t be any better.

    Go Lakers !

  3. Looking forward to a fun year — if only I’ll be able to watch the games on TV.

  4. David H: Ah, the Manuel Special. I don’t think I’m a fan of burritos mojados in general. I believe burritos should be held. You can’t hold something smothered in sauce and look like a reasonable human being. Haha.

    The place in La Puente is called Boca Del Rio. The burrito isn’t for everyone, but to me, it’s awesome. They absolutely load it with meat, too.

    I’ve been living in Fullerton for the past 3 years for college, and yeah, I agree. The Mexican food in Orange county isn’t great.

  5. It’s ridiculous how underappreciated Pau Gasol continues to be. He plays out of position for years, anchors two championships, was robbed the MVP finals vs. Boston (his 17 and 13 was the tops – period), and he puts up with trade chatter and stupid criticisms (soft) without complaint… and he keeps his mouth shut when he is ignored on offense, despite being the most efficient player. And he gets lambasted for declining production last year, when he ranked # 2 in minutes, alongside a bunch of 21-24 year olds… travesty.

  6. great great read. nicely done.

    I expect Pau to fill up the stat sheet like he did last year, but get a lot of the blame of the team doesnt do well (him along with Mike Brown). People’s (fanatics) expectations of a player hardly ever match up with reality, so when expectations arent met, people get criical.

  7. What would improve Pau’s (as well as the Lakers’) play is more time at back-up 5. The Championship Lakers best line-ups were Pau at 5, Lamar at 4, Kobe at 2 with a healthy Luke, Sham-WOW or D-Fish (or an enfuego Ariza/MWP hitting elbow 3s).
    Bottom line is Pau’s hook shot with either hand and passing skills makes him the best back to the basket foreigner in the game. Post Pau and he will draw double teams allowing cuts and catch & shoot 3s.

    Reduce DHow’s early season minutes and play Pau at 5 w/JHill’s energy at 4 with the offense run thru Pau to resolve some of the 2nd Unit problems.

  8. danny: thanks for the fyi on boca del rio. gonna try it real soon. probably try out the carne asade burrito, side of rice and beans. for me, it’s always about the beans; that is to say the taste of the beans.

    sports, food and the loves of our lives. that’s what it’s all about.

    Go Lakers !

  9. I third the compliments on your article and suggest Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ in Van Nuys to boot. Sliced beef brisket’s something else. Everything is something else.

    I can’t conceive one more day without Lakers ball, I’m going stir crazy. BTW great work on the season previews at HP. They’re a captivating read

  10. Mike K.

    The only reason fans(including myself) have been so critical of Pau the last couple of years is simple PLAYOFF PERFORMANCE. The walking dead, need a blood transfusion, sleep deprived, just caught a red eye flight to the game, mode he has been in is very disheartning. A lasting image of Pau that will always be in my head is when PJ had to karate chop dude in the chest to try and wake him up in the playoffs. The same nonchalantness he and Bynum shared when on the boards will be even more exposed with the hoover vacuum playing beside him this year. Give me the Pau that played in the Olympics against Team USA and you wouldnt hear a peep.

  11. thanks for recognizing Pau’s importance on a stacked lakers team,The new look lakers are all team first professionals you can’t go to 3 straight finals winning 2 without trusting each other,especially with the roster changes during each run.we need the bench to blossom on both ends of the floor.Go Lakers!!!

  12. Great read at Grantland on the signature plays for the 5 contenders (Grantland’s count, not mine):
    http://tinyurl.com/9n6cvtv

  13. Ok, this is NFL-related, but I guarantee this will make you laugh so hard you may even cry:
    http://tinyurl.com/8cqbpqy

  14. @theNCdon youre not going to get the Spain Nat Team Pau except on some rare nights. And theres a reason: Pau was the best player on that team and Spain needed to use his size against a smaller USA team. He is a third option offensively here and will be exceptionally good in a passing Princeton offense. To expect him to play in a different role (like last year when people knocked Pau without acknowledging Bynum’s growth inthe post), then you will set yourself up for unrealistic expectations

  15. When I read the post I was thinking, this guy better be talking about Boca or he’s got judgment issues. I generally stay away from burritos as far as good Mexican food is concerned- but Boca is worth an exception.

    That said, while I appreciate your taste in Mexican food, I suspect the Lakers will regret not trading Pau before this season. He’s not a reasonably priced 4 on a team with Howard (or Bynum) and his defensive and rebounding limitations serve to negate the advantage having two 7 footers should give you. We saw that last year and I am afraid we will see it again this year. There might be a superficial increase in numbers for a bit early on, but when Summer comes around, his apologists will be doing double time. Much like they’ve been doing after the last two playoff years.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  16. the other Stephen October 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    keep up the fine work at hardwood paroxysm! thanks for posting here–we hope for many more. +1 for the (626).

  17. Danny,
    I live one city over in Placentia and I suggest you try El Farlito’s if you want some good Mexican food in Orange County. They have the best Carnitas plate this side of Mexico. Anyway, loved the write up and I can wait to read more.

  18. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it amusing and somewhat sad that the words we use to describe Pau are almost exactly the words we used to describe Odom.

    Flashes of dominance and promise. Multi-talented. Second hand man to Kobe. Not having a set role. Fresh off a dominant performance in international competition, even.

    Hopefully somebody will realize that Pau’s role should also probably mirror that of Odom’s to be truly successful, including Pau: coming off the bench and closing the game.

  19. Great, Great post on Pau. My favorite player has taken a beating from Laker fans. But he plays the good soilder and always comes through when they need him. And to my recollection he wasn’t the sole reason Lakers lost the last 2 years. One could say the inability for the guards to close out on Dallas’ shooters was the main reason or that Okc was the superior team last year. The Spainard will be fine and team success will continue as long as he’s a Laker.

  20. radius

    Im just looking for the confidence that he seemingly plays with while on the court during international play. Its not a numbers thing perse, his play of late during the NBA season just comes across as going through the motions on too many nights. Then you see him in the summer playing with such passion and assertiveness it is easy to get frustrated with such talent.

  21. What a great read, great to have you on the team!

  22. The Kobe hatred on ESPN sometimes borders on asinine.I have a quote from David Friedman only with all due respect:
    ”Harden, like Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili, is precisely the kind of player who many “stat gurus” overrate. Players who are second or third options can be very “efficient” because of the context in which they accumulate their statistics. Harden and Ginobili benefit from playing limited minutes, from often facing second team players and from facing first team players who have logged heavy minutes against other first teamers; they also benefit from not having the nightly responsibility to shoot 20 times while dealing with double teams. Gasol was a solid first option in Memphis for several years but he could not lead the Grizzlies to a single playoff win, never mind winning a series. Being the first option wore Gasol down mentally and physically but when he arrived in L.A. he proved to be a great second option to Kobe Bryant on two championship teams. Gasol’s field goal percentage and offensive rebounding immediately improved when he became a Laker because the defensive attention that Bryant attracted gave Gasol a free run at the hoop for easy baskets and second chance opportunities. The problem with many “stat gurus” is that they just crunch numbers without considering such contextual details and this leads to ridiculous assertions about Gasol being more valuable than Bryant and Harden being more valuable than Russell Westbrook”

  23. Danny Chau is awesome. I’ve been a huge fan of his writing for a long time.

  24. Welcome to the FB&G Show. Great read… looking forward to your mix of Lakers and eats.