Gasol on the Hot Seat as Knee Injury Subsides
On the bright side, after an appointment with Dr. Steve Yoon of Los Angeles’s Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, Gasol is reporting that his knee tendinitis is on its way out, and there’s a good chance the Spanish center will be fully healthy by the start of the season.
With Kobe Bryant’s return date far less clear and the departure of Dwight Howard, the Lakers opening day starting lineup will look a lot more like the Grizzlies teams Gasol played with early in his career than the Lakers teams he’s used to. 39-year-old Steve Nash will lead the backcourt with help from Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, and Jordan Farmar. The likely starting small forward is Nick Young, with Wesley Johnson behind him and Chris Kaman will start beside Gasol to give the Lakers a pair of seven-footers up front.
Nash and Kaman have had the most successful careers of all Gasol’s teammates not named Kobe Bryant, but both have seen their production steadily decline the last few years. Nash’s 6.7 assists per game last year were his lowest since the 1999-2000 season when he played under 30 minutes a game and started about half the games he played in. And defensively - never a particular forte of his - he’s become more and more of a liability. Kaman only played 20 minutes per game with Dallas last year, averaging 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game with a career low in blocks per game, 0.8 (compare that to his 2.8 per game in the 2007-08 season).
When Gasol was initially traded from the Grizzlies to the Lakers, there were some heavy positives and negatives that came with the change. On the Lakers, Gasol turned into a supporting player with Kobe to carry the bulk of the scoring. Gasol has always had the talent to be a go-to-guy offensively, but he’s such a selfless player that he operates much better in a secondary role. So all in all, personnel-wise, the Lakers offered a much better fit for the seven-footer.
But Los Angeles also brings heavier attention and scrutiny to the table. While Lakers fans and the media weren’t too harsh on Gasol during the Lakers back-to-back Championships, the last few years haven’t been quite as kind to him. The ‘too soft’ label always sort of floated around Gasol due to his finesse style of play and inability to take initiative at times, but recently it’s grown more and more. Trade rumors have also continually been discussed in regards to Gasol and if it weren’t for the great trade veto of 2011, Gasol would be wearing a Houston jersey right now.
If Gasol were still in Memphis, those two rings wouldn’t be his, but the pressure wouldn’t be nearly as high either (and articles like this wouldn’t be written nearly as frequently - for better or for worse).
There is a lot of speculation that the Lakers could be at risk of missing the playoffs this year for only the 2nd time since 1994. The Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies, and Warriors should all find themselves back in the playoffs (injuries aside) and that only leaves 2 more available spots with the Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Timberwolves, and new-look Pelicans as the top competition for the Lakers.
Last year it was Championship-or-bust. This year, it’s probably more like playoffs-or-bust, and until Kobe’s return, the player the team needs most to avoid another ‘bust’ year is #16.