Has Pau Gasol Become Expendable to the Los Angeles Lakers?
Significant influxes in talent are typically accompanied by corresponding increases in pressure and expectation; much is expected of the teams who are able to stack stars on top of stars, meaning that the Los Angeles Lakers will somehow be surrounded by more hype and higher standards in the season to come, despite their already high marks in both regards.
There will be pressure aplenty, but arguably none greater than that heaped on the shoulders of Pau Gasol. The star that at one time thrust the Lakers into championship contention now looks a bit redundant standing next to Dwight Howard. Gasol will undoubtedly have to spend much of his season showing that he belongs within this particular constellation of talent. None of Gasol's new Laker teammates are particularly difficult players to play with, but it's the collective arrangement in L.A.—and in particular, the overlap with the skill set of Howard—that could make Gasol tradeable down the line.
If it comes down to that, the Lakers should have plenty of options. Gasol may not have been in top form last season, but the reasons he could be potentially valuable to a trade partner are no different from the reasons he made L.A. such a formidable opponent in years past. His post work is polished. His passing is elite for his position. His defense is sound. He may not always be what coaches, teammates and the Laker faithful want him to be, but Gasol is nevertheless an incredibly effective big man capable of bolstering a high-functioning offense.
He just may not be the perfect fit for this particular job, and whether or not that matters will be entirely up to the Lakes themselves. Perhaps L.A. would be better served if Gasol were replaced with a floor-spacer in the Ryan Anderson mold, but it's important that we don't forget the value in redundancy—particularly when Howard's health is still an open question.
There have been no reports indicating that Howard has had any hiccups in his injury rehabilitation, but back injuries have a nasty habit of hanging around long past their welcome. It's a very real possibility that Howard will be nagged and bothered by back-related ailments for the foreseeable future, and if that turns out to be the case, then Gasol's otherwise redundant talents will be especially useful.
That's to say nothing of how Gasol would otherwise be able to work around or in lieu of Howard in particular occasions, or how effective he could be working off of Steve Nash while Howard is on the bench. Gasol may not be an ideal fit when all of the best Lakers are on the court together, but whatever is seemingly lost in skill set surplus could do wonders for bridging the Lakers' tremendous starters and underwhelming reserves. Through Gasol, Mike Brown could have a tremendous post presence to assist the second unit, and in that capacity he could prove to be incredibly valuable.
Nonetheless, Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers have their options, and Gasol isn't necessarily essential—provided they could potentially get an adequate return in the trade market. He's a highly valuable part of their current operations, but with issues of depth and fit remaining to be explored, it's certainly possible that Gasol is the most sensible piece to move if things don't click as planned.
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