The Los Angeles Lakers and Pau Gasol are visiting Houston this week, taking on a Rockets team that Gasol was nearly traded to 12 months ago, though Pau won't be around to show the Rockets what might have been. The team is sitting their big man for an as-yet-unspecified period of time, citing knee tendinitis and opening the floodgates to all manner of trade rumors about the 32-year forward/center.
Those rumors are bunko, the Lakers aren't doing anything until they see how a full and healthy roster featuring Steve Nash works out, but it does appear as if Gasol is going to have to take a back seat for a spell. ESPN's Dave McMenamin was the first to break the news, and this is from his report:
"The biggest thing with him was that he was playing hurt and in this league you just can't do that," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I just didn't think he was running fluidly."
D'Antoni said Gasol made the decision to rest after consulting with the coaching and training staff. There is no set timetable for how long Gasol will sit out. Antawn Jamison will start in his place.
"We got to get him healthy," D'Antoni said. "Whatever it takes -- one game, two games, 10 games -- I don't know. It's day to day but he's got to be healthy. It wasn't fair (to him). He's trying to battle through some stuff and in this league, you just can't do that."
Gasol, whose Twitter feed could have Dickens-era coal hoarders feeling as if the sun is going to shine on them someday, was typically cheery in his reaction:
We don't want to compare Gasol to Lamar Odom, here, because Pau Gasol isn't Lamar Odom. He's working hard, he went through a strenuous offseason that took him to all manner of sporting events and different time zones to both compete and work his charitable causes, and the answer to his problems lies in the application of his talents — and not an understandable mental block as Odom went through last season.
Pau Gasol has to play center. He's one of the NBA's best centers, and he's forced to suit up next to the NBA's best center. It's a luxury for the Lakers, but it's also curtailing their development as they await Steve Nash's return. So far, in his short time as Lakers coach, Mike D'Antoni has used Gasol as a pick and pop player, someone to spot up from the outside, and it's obvious that Gasol is clearly ill-suited for that role. Why three different Lakers coaches, starting in December of 2011, have been unable to find Gasol consistent looks from the low post is beyond us. They have the keys to the kingdom, and they're treating Gasol like he's Troy Murphy.
He's not. He might look frail, he might sport the Euro-beard and long hair, and his pigmentation might throw you down that particular wormhole, but Pau Gasol is a banger. Even if he's the number two banger on the Lakers' depth chart … let the guy play down low for a spell. Dwight Howard, all full of hops and off the ball instincts, knows how to work his magic (ahem) as an ostensible power forward on offense.
In the meantime, as Nash works his way back from a significant injury, perhaps it isn't the worst thing for Pau to rest his aching knees. The Lakers have played him too much, through the last three coaches; and apparently Kobe Bryant is some superhuman immortal this season so it hardly matters if he has to carry the load for a while.
This is a good plan even if the team enters 2013 with a .500 or even sub-.500 record. It's a long season, and all the Lakers have to do is enter the postseason with a set of healthy legs and a good head on their shoulders. The latter can be formulated by realizing just how a 32-year-old Pau Gasol can help effectively, at this point. The former is being chased down as the team rests the knees of its former All-Star.