This past weekend marked the two-year anniversary of the trade that sent Pau Gasol away for current Clippers point guard Chris Paul — a trade that likely would have been franchise altering for the Lakers. They would have had a built in replacement for Kobe Bryant who would double as the best point guard Bryant would play with in his career. For reason’s that aren’t necessarily important, the trade was reversed by the NBA’s commissioner.
Since the trade was reversed by David Stern, the Pau Gasol narrative has changed dramatically among Lakers fans. While he’s been considered soft by Lakers fans since the 2008 Finals — a series in which the entire Celtics team man-handled the entire Lakers team. While the challenging of Gasol’s manhood isn’t new, he’s since been made the Lakers quintessential whipping boy with every single one of his mistakes curated on social media by Lakers fans who desperately want another winner. This season, fans want Gasol gone, traded for anything, as if talented 7-footers with championship experience grow on trees.
I’m not here to ignore Gasol’s declining skill set. Pau’s numbers have been in a steady decline since the 2010-11 season, and his numbers are down in almost every meaningful metric (his rebounding percentage is up this season largely due to Dwight Howard no longer annihilating every available board). More than any other season, Gasol has settled for long jump shots, and when he’s attacked the basket, he’s had varying success with average peaks and very low valleys. A lot of Gasol’s struggles are directly related to his age and just not having the physicality needed to compete at the game’s highest level every single night. It’s not an excuse for Gasol, but it’s a huge reason for his obvious decline. It’s not a secret, Gasol is a shell of his former self, frustrating his coach, teammates, and fans alike — but I still appreciate the big man, and at this point, it’s hard to imagine Gasol playing in another jersey.
These days, you’d hardly need a klaxon when Pau catches the ball in the post. The number of times he’s hurting defenses this season when he gets the ball on the block is far below the league’s average — and because of this, it suppresses misoneism among fans. On the surface, I can understand whose thoughts are of that ilk. The Lakers did not become one of the most successful organizations in all of sports by throwing out lackluster talent. But on the other hand, the lore of the franchise also comes from maintaining the players who have carved their way into the collective hearts of the fan base by brilliant play on the court, and helping to improve the community off it. Pau has done these things and so much more, and yet, we’ve quickly forgotten that Gasol changed the culture of this organization for the better more than any other Laker in the past decade, and because of this, I don’t want to see Pau traded.
While this may not remain true for many basketball fans, I don’t root for laundry. I root for the Los Angeles Lakers and the players who force me to appreciate the game of basketball a little more than I did before I watched them play. I’m not one to hold a great’s declining skill set umbriferous over the highs of his career — especially when one of those highs was helping the Lakers bring home a title against the Boston Celtics. Gasol has had some absolutely brilliant moments as a member of the Lakers, and while the frequency of moments like this has plummeted, he’s still capable of providing some beautiful basketball for these Lakers.
Moving Gasol for pieces who are likely only going to be worth pennies on the dollar just wouldn’t feel right, not as a fan. Gasol is a once-in-a-generation talent — there will not be another Pau Gasol. These are the years that should be spent appreciating a man who not only helped bring the title back to Los Angeles, but against the Celtics. Pau’s time in the NBA isn’t going to be much longer after his contract is up. Being a fan should be about appreciating your guys while they’re still here. The name on the back of the jersey is never more important than the one in the front, but some of those names mean more to an organization than others — and the back of Gasol’s jersey is going to hang in the rafters one day. While it’s easy to want to see Gasol traded, it’ll be just as hard to see him go. I’m in the minority here, but I’m glad Stern nixed the Chris Paul trade.
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