There is no doubt that Pau Gasol is not doing well physically. Eric Pincus of the LA Times noted today that in media availability after today’s practice Pau was not looking well and could hear him wheezing when he was transcribing his remarks. In that media availability it was clarified that Pau has a case of sinusitis as well as bronchitis and that he’s been on antibiotics prescribed by his doctor. So, again, Pau really is sick.
That doesn’t change the fact that missing games due to illness doesn’t exactly inspire confidence from those that rely on you to be on the court and producing. Both Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report and Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA wrote about this today, with both providing some scathing analysis of the Spaniard. A sampling:
But Gasol isn’t showing up now, and it’s inexcusable. The 76ers snapped a 13-game road losing streak against the Lakers, whose postgame locker room with a really tired Nick Young and newly injured Xavier Henry reeked of irrelevance more so than any previous time this season.
The deeper issue of whether the Lakers should tank or try this season is besides this point. They are absolutely committed to winning and trying to make the playoffs, and when Gasol isn’t, it’s a terrible affront to these young, hungry teammates who with him built that refreshing post-Dwight chemistry and cultivated the promise of a feel-good, underdog Lakers season.
And from McMenamin:
But here is the unwavering truth that makes the outcomes of the games almost irrelevant when considering Gasol’s lost contributions, no matter how strong or how meager they would have been: He could have played.
It was Gasol’s decision to sit out as his team extended its season-high losing streak to five with a 111-104 defeat to Philly. It’s not like he has been bedridden or completely unable to exert himself physically. According to a team source, Gasol still showed up to Lakers shootaround to lift weights Sunday, and when he told longtime trainer Gary Vitti he wanted more time to get over the infection and was not going to play against the Sixers, Vitti said to not even bother showing up to the game.
These are biting critiques of the Spaniard. And while I’ve been one of Pau’s biggest supporters during his time with the Lakers, I can’t say I disagree too much with what they’re saying. Pau is paid handsomely to perform on the court and him sitting out with illness doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that he could be doing more to help the team.
The flip-side of this coin, however, is that if Pau will not be anywhere near his best by playing through illness, should he be playing at all? During the Heat game — a game he tried to gut through while sick — he was clearly hampered and more than a step slow on both sides of the floor. He was not effective defensively or on the backboards and his inability to stay with Chris Bosh was one of the key factors in the Heat taking control of the game in the 2nd half.
I’ve gone on record saying that Pau should sit out until he’s healthy enough to play, but even in saying that I acknowledge that this isn’t as straight forward as anyone would like.
As McMenamin points out, Pau could have played. When that is the case, resentment can start to fester as the other guys bust their backsides to try and compete while a key player sits out with something that isn’t as easy to understand as a sprained joint or a broken bone. Of course, if a guy decides he can’t go, for whatever reason, it’s usually a decision that should be respected. Pau has been through countless battles and should know his body better than anyone. That should mean something, right?
In the end, what this signifies the most to me is the dwindling clout Pau seems to carry. Those championships he contributed to seem so long ago. His partner in crime and his biggest backer — Kobe Bryant — isn’t on the court to help boost him up or reinforce his importance. Pau, then, is somewhat alone as the last connection to the previous era of Lakers’ success. Rather than having the Kobe’s, Fisher’s, and Odom’s by his side he has minimum contract and low salaried guys like Henry, Young, and Meeks who are all working as hard as they can to help the team win games (and get their next contracts).
For what it’s worth, Mike D’Antoni seems to have Pau’s back in all this, saying “It’s very unfortunate a teammate would think that much less say it in the media. That’s not right. Pau was sick.” D’Antoni and Pau haven’t always seen eye to eye, but both need each other to push this team forward so it’s good to see this support.
Ultimately, however, whether he’s being called out or supported by his teammates or coaches isn’t what’s most important. That would be Pau playing and doing so as well as he can when he does get out on the floor. And that’s the rub, I guess. Because the only way for him to come out a winner in this is be the Pau that we all remember. He can’t do that missing games and he certainly can’t do it if he’s not at his best. So maybe Pau can’t win in this after all.