Pau Gasol is a hero to all Los Angeles Lakers fans who remember the dark days between 2005 and 2008. Before he showed up and saved L.A. basketball from the pit of darkness and perpetual failure that it had slowly morphed into, Kobe Bryant and Co. were doomed to repeated first round playoff exits and no legitimate shot at a title on a seemingly yearly basis.
That all changed when the big Spaniard arrived. Suddenly L.A. was in the Finals for three straight years. Suddenly championship banners were being hung up at the Staples Center once again. Suddenly Kobe Bryant was an all-time great once more.
How soon we forget.
Gasol has been terrible this season. Facts are facts. He is averaging a career low in points (13.4) on a career low field goal percentage (45.3) all the while earning more money than he has ever earned. Mike D’Antoni has made it abundantly clear that he has no use for him. And, to top it all off, the 32-year-old has been battling injuries all year.
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On Tuesday night, Gasol had to leave L.A.’s game against the Brooklyn Nets after straining the plantar fascia in his right foot with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. When asked afterward how long he thought the recovery for his most recent ailment would be, he described the timetable as uncertain.
The 11-year vet finished with 15 points and four rebounds against Brooklyn, but he did his damage on 37.5 percent shooting.
Looking beyond this week, Gasol’s status with the Lakers is even more uncertain than his status for the next few games. During a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, he indicated that there is a very good chance he may ask for a trade this summer.
"If this coach stays and Dwight Howard remains with the Lakers," T.J. Simers asked the future Hall of Famer, "what about you?"
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"It would be hard for me to deal with another season knowing the facts you just mentioned," Gasol replied.
"So do you ask for a fresh start elsewhere?"
"It's a possibility," he said, "yes."
Gasol appears to have come to terms with his seemingly inevitable fate: "I have a certain level of loyalty here, and I've been through a lot of great, amazing things. And there have been others that have been hurtful. But that's life.”
There is no getting around the fact that Gasol’s productivity has dipped ever since Lamar Odom was traded. That hasn’t gone unnoticed and isn’t a coincidence. But the complete lack of regard all involved have for everything that he has done for the Lakers is still startling. Equally troubling is that nobody is holding D’Antoni to account for refusing to alter his gameplan to fit his personnel, instead of trying to fit a square-shaped Pau Gasol peg into a round hole.
Regardless of what happens this year, it appears to be a lock that Gasol will not be wearing purple and gold in 2014.
And if you’re a real Lakers fan, there is only one legitimate reaction to that: sadness.