Many people assume that the Los Angeles Lakers will trade forward Pau Gasol before the start of the 2012-13 regular season, but it's rarely discussed how the Lakers will fill the void created by Gasol's departure.
Gasol may not have inspired any confidence among Lakers fans with his passionless performance in the 2012 NBA playoffs, but it's hard to ignore his importance and value to the franchise in the past and the present.
Lest we forget, it was the deal to acquire Gasol that immediately re-energized the Lakers and subsequently helped them reach three consecutive finals series and win two championships in the process.
Last season, Gasol was relegated to the Lakers' third scoring option due to Andrew Bynum's emergence and trouble adjusting to the new offensive scheme of coach Mike Brown. But Gasol was still arguably the best third option in the NBA.
Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field during the short 2011-12 season, and those numbers are on par with the very best players at the power forward position in the NBA.
However, Gasol was clearly rattled by the Lakers' failed attempt to trade him in a deal for point guard Chris Paul, and it was reflected in Gasol's performance on the court.
It didn't help that Brown's offense pushed Gasol further away from the basket and out of his comfort zone, and while he does have perimeter skills, Gasol is still a big man first.
Gasol's numbers suggest he performed admirably during the regular season, despite the swirl of speculation that surrounded him, and it's hard to point the finger solely at him for the Lakers' loss to Oklahoma City in the playoffs.
Poor point guard play, an inconsistent Bynum, mental mistakes from Bryant and complete ineptitude from the coaching staff were all factors in the Lakers' latest second-round dismissal from the postseason.
And I'm not sure if dealing Gasol will bring the Lakers any closer to a championship, even if the return is a player like New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, because while the Lakers could solve one major issue, another would potentially be created.
That is, unless reserve forward Jordan Hill is ready to step out of the shadows and onto the big stage on a consistent basis.
Hill's tough, gritty style caused some excitement late in the regular season and at various points of the playoffs, but can Hill offset the loss of Gasol even with a player like Williams manning the point?
Gasol is bigger and clearly more talented and versatile than Hill, and while a deal to acquire Williams could push the Lakers back to the finals, it also places more pressure on the shoulders of Bynum if Gasol is not there.
Is Bynum ready to accept that responsibility? And should we accept as fact that a short season of relative good health means Bynum's injuries are a thing of the past?
I would personally love to see Williams in a Lakers uniform because he would be the most significant upgrade at the position since the franchise drafted Magic Johnson, but Williams is no Magic.
Magic was big and versatile enough to play in the post for the Lakers, but every one of his championship teams still included a dominant post player, and are the Lakers sure Bynum is that player?
Maybe the Lakers should think about trading Bynum instead, because it's easier to imagine Gasol replacing Bynum's contributions than Hill compensating for Gasol.
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