Archives For pau gasol

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.

Pau Gasol may have a strained groin, but his recent play (the Spaniard averaged nearly 21 and 12 in January) has him square in the middle of more trade rumors. This time, Pau isn’t headed East — well at least not too far — and will, potentially, land in Phoenix to play with the upstart Suns, per ESPN’s Marc Stein:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, among the options being weighed as part of their well-chronicled desire to acquire an established player as they make an unexpected playoff push this season, have been exploring the feasibility of trading for the Lakers’ four-time All-Star.

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million.

More from Stein:

The Lakers, though, have been adamant that they won’t part with Gasol merely for financial relief, even in a season in which they’ve slipped into the West’s bottom three at 16-31. Lakers officials refused to relent in their talks with Cleveland, convinced that they had other means to get below the luxury-tax threshold before the trade deadline and that Gasol still holds trade value.

Gasol responded by averaging 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds in January. He’s expected to miss the next week because of strained right groin that’s not believed to be serious.

How much the Suns would be willing to add beyond Okafor to a potential trade for Gasol, in terms of young talent or draft compensation, remains to be seen. But Suns officials have made no secret of the fact that the team’s wholly unexpected 29-18 start — despite playing without the injured Eric Bledsoe for the last 17 games — has led to some revisions in their long-term planning.

Whether or not this deal happens, of note is that the Lakers continue to do their due diligence in seeking out value for their assets. Injuries have derailed any chance of a competitive campaign and even though Gasol has been playing fantastic ball (especially offensively), it has not affected the win-loss column at all.

Said another way, if the Lakers had actually been winning some games, they might find it better to hold onto Pau and see if a late push to try and grab a playoff spot was possible once the rest of the roster were healthy. But the team has slipped so far in the standings, even if they did make a push to close the year it is unlikely to net them anything more than a “good job, good effort” and a lesser quality lottery selection.

This leaves the Lakers in a position where they may, finally, be willing to cash out on Gasol’s value when it’s at its relative peak and try to get something back in return while they can. Any combination of salary cap relief and a draft pick would likely be considered a good haul by this front office when looking at their outlook for the remainder of the year and ahead towards the future.

Of course, like all things, the devil is in the details. And while this deal isn’t done and we would only be able to judge the final version once we have confirmed terms, there are two key parts of this rumored deal that deserve mentioning:

  • The Suns only theoretically own four 1st round draft picks in this upcoming draft. They certainly own their own and they own the Pacers. However, the pick they are owed from Minnesota is top 14 protected and, currently, the Wolves sit outside the playoffs and would not need to give up that pick. The pick they are owed from the Wizards is also top 14 protected, but as it stands now Washington is slated to make the playoffs and will give that pick this year.
  • This trade would save the Lakers money in two ways. First is that because Okafor makes less money than Pau, the team would pay out less salary this year and save the difference between the two players’ salaries in luxury tax payments. Second, because Okafor is injured, insurance has already started to pick up 80% of what he is owed this season so the Lakers wouldn’t actually be paying his full paycheck.
  • What this deal would not do is get the Lakers under the luxury tax threshold for this season. Another trade where the Lakers would have to “dump” about $3 million more in salary would need to be consummated to get under the tax line. This is doable, but, is not a given. The expectation would be, however, that the team would work to try and accomplish this.

I’d have more thoughts on Pau if this deal (or a version of it with the Suns or another team) were to come to fruition, but needless to say I’d have mixed emotions about seeing the Spaniard leave. He has long been one of my favorite players, not just on the Lakers, but in the league. Add to the fact that he genuinely seems like an even better person than he is a basketball player (which, considering his talent and production is saying something), and I’d miss him even more.

In any event, it looks like we are in full on “Pau trade watch” again. This isn’t new — it has been this way for years approaching the trade deadline — but I’d be lying if I said this time it didn’t feel a bit different. The Lakers have, essentially, zero hope of a post-season run and that changes the calculus on whether or not they should hold onto a player of Pau’s ability. Whether that finally tilts things in the favor of a deal getting done remains to be seen, but it sure does seem like this time something will happen.

Pau Gasol had a terrific January, averaging 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds for the month. His February, however, isn’t starting out so hot. After dealing with a sore groin for the past week, Gasol had an MRI on the muscle and the news wasn’t good:

In the next week the Lakers have three road games — at Minnesota, Cleveland, and Philadelphia — and Gasol won’t play in any of them. Upon his re-evaluation, he may be cleared but based off the Lakers’ luck this year, that is no certainty.

Chris Kaman also had an MRI on a sore right knee, but his scan was negative and he has been cleared to play. Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t mean much (I’ve heard DNP-CD might be renamed “Kaman’d”), but with Pau out, the back up big man will likely be needed for at least spot minutes with Hill and Sacre also seeing increased minutes in the pivot.

Considering Pau had asserted himself as the team’s best and most steady contributor, this news just continues the team’s tailspin of late. Getting Nash and Blake back (both could play Tuesday) should help, but at this point the team’s place as one of the league’s poorest outfits likely won’t be altered much until their full roster is available for action.

With Pau out at least a week and Kobe sitting until after the all-star break, that won’t be for some time.

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:

From Ding:

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.

For nearly a week now, Pau Gasol has been dealing with an upper respiratory infection. It kept him out of the game against the Warriors this past Saturday and had him looking quite sluggish in losses to the Suns (Monday) and Heat (Wednesday). Today he saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist, missed practice, and may not play Friday against the Jazz. From ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin on twitter:

McMenamin clarified that the big Spaniard is listed as “day to day” (aren’t we all?) and that he theoretically could still travel to Utah tomorrow and play against the Jazz. That, however, is very unlikely and we might as well get used to the idea that Chris Kaman will start and that Hill and Sacre will see the majority of the back up minutes at the Center position.

I know Pau has not been at his best this year, but this illness really does come on the heels of one of his better stretches of the season. Before the aforementioned three games where he either didn’t play or played poorly, Pau had a six gam stretch where he shot above 50% in all but one game including back to back 21 point efforts in wins over the Grizzlies and Timberwolves. After finally looking healthy after the ankle sprain he suffered a couple of weeks back, he really was playing well (at least offensively) and was starting to show flashes of his old self. Now, however, he’s back on the shelf with an chest infection that is clearly affecting his endurance and his activity level on the floor.

How long Pau sits out is an unknown, but I’d honestly prefer he be completely healthy before he returns to the lineup. When he’s not at his best physically — especially when it’s related to an illness that affects his endurance — he can be quite the liability defensively (even more than usual) as he’s a beat slow rotating in the half court and can lag behind the play several steps in transition. Further, he’s not nearly as active as he needs to be on the glass and that compromises the full integrity of what the team wants to do on that side of the ball. I’d prefer the team just play Hill, Kaman, and Sacre and let them provide all they can until Pau can rejoin the lineup and play at his best.