Here’s to you, Pau

Daniel Rapaport —  February 27, 2014

In all likelihood, Pau Gasol will play a maximum of 25 more games in the Lakers’ purple and gold. Pau’s contract, which pays him $19.3 million a year, will expire at the end of this season. He’s past his prime, sure, but he still has a ton to offer to a team who needs a skilled big man to push them over the hump (in his last 10 games, he’s averaging 19.6 points and 11.3 boards on 53% shooting). The Lakers have been ultra-prudent about keeping the cap sheet clear for the next few years in an attempt to make the rebuilding process a quick and relatively painless one. Pau will probably be a casualty of this strategy; the Lakers will look for younger players who will be able to produce at an elite level for years to come.

This season has been a disaster that’s been well chronicled on this blog and seemingly every form of basketball media. There’s been a lot to be disappointed about: the never ending injuries, the inability to compete in third quarters, the uncertainty of Kobe’s future to name a few. But for me, nothing has been more upsetting than watching Pau visibly disagree with Coach D’Antoni in a manner that is so distinctly un-Pau like. It’s the second consecutive year in which Pau has been dissatisfied with how he’s been used on the court, so this really isn’t anything new, but after the Pacers’ game was a new low. Though he tried to remain diplomatic, Pau essentially called out D’Antoni’s leadership ability and decision making when it comes to lineups. It seems the stress of losing constantly has worn on Gasol, who’s one of exactly two Lakers left over from the glory days of 2008-2010.

This isn’t the Pau I want to remember. Nope. Not interested in remembering Gasol as a complainer. Or as an over-the-hill big who shows flashes of his old greatness but appears at least a step slow. I prefer to remember #16 as the beast in the post that he once was, a player who could beat you with both hands, with his back to the basket, or torch a defense with a wet midrange J. I prefer to remember the Spaniard as the ultimate team-first guy who wouldn’t dare say a negative syllable about his team to the media. That’s the Pau I came to love.

This Pau:

I distinctly remember the day he was acquired. It was my seventh grade year, and as I came out of my pre-algebra class I saw my friend, a fellow Laker fanatic, literally screaming through the halls: “WE GOT PAU GASOL!!! WE GOT PAU GASOL!!!” The Lakers were off to a good start that year- the team’s promising young center, Andrew Bynum, was playing well before an injury (Bynum injured; who’d a thunk?) and Kobe was probably the best player in the world at the time. However, the Lakers weren’t anywhere near contender status. That all changed on February 3rd, 2008, when Pau came to Los Angeles. The Lakers made the finals that year, their first of three consecutive, and the purple and gold were back.

I genuinely fear that people will forget how good- and how instrumental to this franchise- Pau was. He was the undoubted second option on a team that won two championships and reached the finals three straight years. He made three straight all star teams from 2009-2011. Pau gave the 2012 USA team, who many believed could have given 1992’s Dream Team a run for their money, fits in the gold medal game to the tune of 24 points despite facing constant double teams.

Now, Pau’s on the trading block, or at least is reported by the media to be on the trading block, each and every season. He’s viewed as an overpaid cap-clogger who is probably a bit overweight and really doesn’t fit D’Antoni’s system, which favors athletic bigs who can roll to the basket effectively, a la Amare Stoudemire in his prime. I think it’s clear that Kobe doesn’t like the way Pau’s been treated by the organization in recent years, and I agree whole heartedly with him.

Gosh, Pau has given us so so SO many memories. Everyone Laker fanatic has a personal favorite Pau moment. For me, it’s him leading this fast break:

He’s got the long, flowy, probably greasy hair that he sported during his prime. He’s moving great; at 28, he was at, or near, his physical peak. And my oh my, look at how incredibly skilled he is for a legitimate 7-footer.

So when Pau makes his likely departure this offseason, don’t hold a grudge. Don’t remember him as over-the-hill, or a guy who’s detrimental to a locker room and complains to the media about his coach. Remember the championship player and the championship person who brought our beloved Lakers back to glory. Pau’s an all-time Laker great. His jersey may someday hang in the rafters alongside the #24 of his partner in crime.

And that’s how it should be.

Daniel Rapaport

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