Sometimes the blame game is the only game in town. When the season is over, when your team has exited the court amid disappointment and embarrassment, feelings of bitterness are bound to take hold.
Over the past few weeks Lakers fans have made their frustrations abundantly clear. There have been many soft targets to go after. Bynum’s disgraceful foul on Barea, the bench’s lack of production, Lamar’s distracting foray into reality television. But head and shoulders above all all others was the performance of Lakers big man Pau Gasol.
For his part, Gasol asserted that his porous play had less to do with any truth to the rumors swirling around his personal life than it did to with what many of us suspected about his physical condition after virtually three straight years of playing basketball, “It wasn’t about self-esteem. It wasn’t about confidence. I collapsed. I was exhausted a little bit too. It hasn’t been a lack of confidence,” Gasol told the Spanish website Marca in a recent interview.
Still, an admission or not, many Lakers fans are in a frenzy. I see comments on message boards, editorial pieces, people calling in to talk shows, all with the same pitch fork attitude. This guy has got to go. He’s soft. He admitted he was too weak to give it his all and he folded on us. Ditch him!
Truth be told the Lakers will likely explore every option available to them in the off-season, save trading Kobe Bryant. But if the Lakers do decide to move Gasol it will biggest mistake they could make. And to prove it all it takes is a simple look at the numbers that the Spaniard brings to the table.
Let’s start with two. As in two consecutive championships with Pau playing Robin to Kobe’s Batman. Two more than they would have had if Mitch Kupchak hadn’t swiped him away from the Memphis Grizzlies (I know Marc Gasol played well in the postseason, but come on, the Lakers traded Kwame Brown and some prospects for a perennial All-Star. This was still highway robbery).
Next is one. As in the type of player Pau is, one of kind, irreplaceable. The Lakers could probably get back a decent package of athletes to fill out the roster should they decide to move Gasol (Denver seems like a possible destination) but they will not a receive a player of Pau’s order in return. And generally in the NBA when you swap a star player in his prime for multiple pieces, the team that ends up with the star invariably comes out ahead. Think Barkley to Phoenix, Garnett to Boston, Shaq to Miami. Let’s not have Gasol to whoever make that list.
And then there is seven. As in seven years between when the Shaq-Kobe dynasty won its last championship and this new incarnation of the Lakers managed to climb the mountain again. Before the Lakers go blowing up a team that has made the finals three of the past four years, let’s just ponder, how easy is it to build a championship combination in the first place?
Put it all together and what do we get? 217. That’s two hundred seventeen. Two hundred seventeen games that Gasol played after joining the Lakers before the team finally endured it’s first three game losing streak. That is a remarkable track record, one that speaks volumes about what Gasol brings as a player.
You can lambast for him being soft. He can call him overly sensitive or openly question his toughness. He can make these accusations and yet they all wilt in the face of the raw numbers, the wins and losses. It constantly amazes me how people so easily forget this one simple fact. Pau is a winner. And isn’t that, more than anything, what Lakers fan want?
Moreover, Gasol is hardly past his prime. He may have been exhausted during the playoffs but don’t bet against him to use the criticism as motivation, to rest up and to be ready to elevate his game once again when next season begins. Sure, the Lakers could trade Gasol over the summer but consider them warned. They do so at their own risk.
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