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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.

What is up, guys? So, it’s been a minute – hopefully this look ahead to Game 5 of what promises to be yet another oddity (different flavor, at least)of a Laker season finds you in good health.

When we last crossed paths, overstating the disarray that surrounded the Lakers would have posed quite the challenge. Wrapping up a season defined by tumult – the passing of a patriarch, upheaval and uncertainty on the bench, devastating injuries, the Next Great Laker eyeing the exit seemingly on arrival and cupboard shockingly devoid of youth, athleticism and, frankly, NBA talent – with Kobe Bryant shelved indefinitely and without a trump card to pull from their perpetually stacked deck, Mitch Kupchak and Co were staffed with the task of assembling transitional roster (I’ve gotta get diplomatic immunity for that, right?), on the cheap, without hamstringing their ability to go shopping next summer.

While acknowledging the myriad challenge that lay before the Lakers’ front office – the aforementioned financial constraints, an ascendant contender down the hall (still owned by a racist slumlord – never forget) also equipped with the “hey, ____, wouldn’t be cool to live and play in L.A.?” sales pitch – what emerged from the summer’s personnel machinations read like an obituary for optimism:

Chris Kaman, huh?… Hey, apparently Jordan Farmar’s back – Ok… Xavier Henry… at least he was a lotto pick?… Wes Johnson?! Isn’t that just English for Nikoloz Tskitishvili?… NICK YOUNG?!?! Really? Swaggy @$%4%$ P?!?!

It was dark.

On the other hand…

Though I’m not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season, I’m not not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season. And hell, if you’re ever going do it, this is supposedly the year… And man, if you’re in, might as well only do it once, and be the freaking Lakers of tanking.

Yeah, about that…

One week ago, the NBA’s island of misfit toys, err, the Lakers, opened the season with a matchup against their noisy neighbors, under the watchful eyes of a triumphant legacy, a legacy that, well… the hell with it – Oh, Doc. Shrouding the achievements of Baylor, West, Magic and Kareem so that giant Jared Dudley can watch over your squad? C’mon man! That’s just sad. Just slap a Pacific Division banner and Loy Vaught’s #35 on one of the other walls and be done with it.

Whew! That felt good. Sorry. Where were we? Oh yeah…

Last Tuesday evening, the Lakers’ curious collection kicked off its season as a near-double-digit underdog against the Clippers – and frankly my specs were not sufficiently rosy to allow me to expect what was to come. Unencumbered by the expectations that typically accompany the arrival of November in Lakerland, behind an early spark provided by Pau Gasol and fueled spectacularly by the desire and tireless effort of the Gallows Humor All-Stars, the Lakers took the fight to L.A.’s presumed contender. Not only did the Lakers dominate the offensive glass (15 off the bench – 11 from Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman), attack the paint and unleash an awesome 3-point barrage en route to 76 bench points (!!; That’s like a week’s work for your average Laker bench!) and a 13-point win, the backdrop against which they did so made for one of the most enjoyable victories in recent memory. For the first time in a long time, a Lakers win brought with it exuberance, and not relief. The Lakers as plucky upstarts.

With all due respect to the individual and collective abilities of the men comprising the 2013-14 Lakers’ roster, in an unaltered state it’s difficult to examine this crew and – in the absence of heroism the likes of which we’ve never seen from a still-rehabbing Kobe – concoct a scenario in which the accomplishments of this squad outstrip those of its 2012-13 predecessor. What we do have, however, is a collection of largely useful basketball players, without long-term financial commitments, looking to revive an NBA career, pen a successful final chapter, audition for a supporting role with a contender, capitalize on an opportunity to justify lofty draft status, or some combination thereof. And Nick Young.

And the opportunity to watch these guys work like hell to reclaim, reroute and resuscitate their NBA careers. And Nick Young.

The first stanza of the Lakers’ 2013-14 season has run the gamut. The euphoric haze of the shocking dismissal of the Clippers dissipating in Oakland, as the Lakers were rolled, lit up by Klay Thompson. Two nights later they once again flirted with an upset, challenging the (admittedly Duncan-less) defending Western Conference champion Spurs before coming up just short. And on Sunday, clinging to victory against the Atlanta Hawks after surrendering a double-digit lead they’d held throughout the game.

78 to go. It’s time to settle in.

Two years into their own retool-not-rebuild amid the professional twilight of their own generational great, face of the franchise, the Dallas Mavericks’ attempts to find a running mate of comparable stature for Dirk Nowitzki – via the pursuits of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Dallas native Deron Williams – have anticlimactically yielded Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert and DeJuan Blair. Tonight in Texas, the Lakers kick off what is certain to be a challenging three-game trip against the Mavs, with matchups against the Rockets and Pelicans looming Thursday and Friday, before returning home for six of their next seven games. And with Dallas looking at three road games of their own in the next four nights, starting in OKC tomorrow, they’ll surely muster their best shot for the Lakers.

Offensively, Dallas will present the Lakers with a range of challenges. Like the Lakers, the Mavs prefer to play at a breakneck pace (fourth in the NBA in pace; the Lakers rank first), but, through three games, have managed to do so far more effectively than the Lakers, ranking third in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency (111.3 points/ 100 possessions), and rank in the top 12 leaguewide in each of the “Offensive Four Factors”: eFG% (12th), Offensive Rebound Rate (11th),Turnover Rate (10th lowest) and FTA/FGA (3rd). The strong defensive effort from Wes Johnson will be huge here, as will the Lakers’ work on the offensive boards. (Note: Jordan Hill and his stellar 23.2% ORB Rate are banged up, but will be in action)

Not terribly surprisingly, however, a squad on which the Dirk/Monta/Calderon trio is logs roughly 100 minutes per night does not hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor, ranking 23rd in the NBA. Despite a similarly pedestrian ranking offensively (20th in the NBA), the Lakers must exploit the Mavs’ shortcomings at the defensive end – namely by getting to the line, as the Mavs’ .352 opponents’ FTA/FGA ratio ranks last in the NBA, and perhaps easing up a bit on the gas, and emphasizing lineups featuring both Pau and Chris Kaman, a handful to begin with, but potentially a nightmare for the Mavs with Brendan Wright out of action and Dalembert and Bernard James their only active bigs.

Beyond this as has been the case through the season’s first week (and likely will be going forward), the most vital components to a Laker victory will at the offensive end be energy, aggressiveness and outside shooting. In other words, Xavier Henry must build on the best week of his NBA life.

Enjoy the game everyone!

What we have is a player that in 4 of the past 5 years has posted better PER’s as a C while also being one of the best post up players in the league. Yet, the running notion is that he’s better off playing a different position. It seems, what we’ve done is mistaken Pau’s versatility to play PF as an indicator that he’sbetter playing that position. We’ve overvalued his height advantage, overplayed his strength deficiency, and concluded that his best fit is one that explores the facets of his game that aren’t as strong (his mid-range shooting) as the ones he’s used to his advantage his entire career in both the NBA and internationally (his post up game). The reality is, though, what we’ve really done is not looked closely enough at the advantages of him playing C.

That’s an excerpt from a post written last summer. At the time, Gasol was clearly on the trade block and the argument was pretty simple: Pau Gasol, to be at his best, needs to play more Center and whether he stayed in Los Angeles or was shipped to another team, he needed to get back to playing more in that spot in order to get back to being the player we knew him to be.

Well, we all know what happened next. The Lakers traded Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard and, with that acquisition, Pau spent another season playing a lot of PF and saw his offensive numbers and efficiency once again slip. It didn’t help that Pau battled numerous injuries, nor did it help that Mike D’Antoni initially jerked around his role by turning him into a sixth man where he clearly wasn’t as comfortable (or happy). But, ultimately, Pau’s struggles can mostly be linked to him spending more time away from the basket, roaming around the perimeter and becoming a stretch-y PF who didn’t spend enough time as a scoring option from his preferred spots at the elbow and the low block.

Heading into next season, however, that can all change. Dwight Howard is in Houston and Andrew Bynum is in Cleveland. There is no younger player to appease with touches or to feed the ball to encourage his growth. Pau is, once again, the clear cut best big man post option on the team and should see the majority of the touches on his preferred spot on the left block.

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Building a team is as much about the assets you have as the ones you hope to obtain. You want more shooters? How about a lock down wing defender? What about a hustling big man who does all the dirty work or a shot creator from the back court who can generate offense when the shot clock is winding down?

Join the club, everyone wants more of those things. And with a high demand for players with those skill sets, getting them is easier than simply asking.

In order to get those types of players you need assets to obtain them. Be it trade pieces or the salary cap space (or exceptions as an over the cap team), you need to give something to get something. The Lakers, meanwhile, don’t have a lot of assets to work with to get the skill sets they’d like to add to the roster. That means the ones they do have need to be used carefully and maximized if the team hopes to take a step forward rather than simply treading water (or even taking another step back).

In an attempt to gauge how the Lakers will move forward this off-season, it’s best to look at some of their most valuable assets (while speculating how they might be deployed) and how they can contribute to building a viable contender next season. Let’s get to it…

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