Pau Gasol has something to prove this season - he looked the part on Tuesday against the Mavs
Pau Gasol never was one to offer excuses for shoddy play.
And while Lakers Nation burned all around him last season and Gasol saw his postseason average dip to an all time low of just 12.5 points per game, you never once heard him toss the blame to anyone else.
Gasol's theme song for the 2011-12 Lakers debacle and the surrounding media scrutiny should have been the Frank Sinatra classic, "That's Life".
Don't look now, but Gasol is back in the race.
In fact, watching him perform for two weeks at the Summer Games in London proved a point: the 7'0" Spaniard is not over the hill—he merely was out of position and out of sync with a Lakers team that never found its basketball legs under first year head coach Mike Brown.
Gasol averaged over 20 points for Spain during the two week tournament and helped his team come within a whisker of knocking off Team USA for the gold medal. That night, Pau had 24 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and a major cut over his left eye by the time it was all over and Spain had lost a battle, 107-100.
Last night marked the beginning of what should be a career year for Pau Gasol. He's weathered more storms in the past two seasons than most players would in an entire career and has emerged stronger and better prepared for what lies ahead.
Gasol knows he's been fortunate, despite the fact that the Lakers were about to ship him off to New Orleans a year ago as part of the big Chris Paul deal that flamed out when Commissioner David Stern nixed it. He was rumored to be gone several times over the ensuing months, as the trade deadline neared and again over the summer.
The pressure of not knowing where he would be playing, mixed with the strike shortened season and a new coach who decided to change his offensive game (fewer touches, more facilitating), surely left Gasol feeling as if his days were numbered.
The Lakers were bounced in the second round by Oklahoma City and Gasol looked flat and listless. His 17.4 points in the regular season (lowest of his career) and 12.5 in 12 post season games (another low) had Lakers fans wondering if Gasol had lost more than a step or two.
And then something really good happened: The Lakers traded for Steve Nash. And, if that wasn't enough, they traded for Dwight Howard. Suddenly Pau Gasol was surrounded by two guys who will make his basketball life sweet again.
Which player is the key to Lakers success this season?
Gasol has never played with a team this loaded before. And he finally has, in Nash, a true Hall of Fame point guard who will get him the ball in open spots with tremendous regularity. Unless Mike Brown puts an actual muzzle on Nash and Gasol, expect the latter to flourish in the new Princeton offense.
It was widely reported that Gasol and Bynum did not get along that well, especially over the past year. After Kobe Bryant, Bynum became the other focal point in the Lakers system and Gasol was odd man out.
To wake up one summer in August and realize that not only were you not traded, but your new low post partner is the league's reigning defensive superstar and all world center Dwight Howard must have felt like Christmas morning had come early.
Howard and Gasol should complement each other's games while Nash serves as conductor. Add Bryant and a slimmed down, rejuvenated Metta World Peace to the mix and you start to see how this could be the best year of Pau Gasol's career.
As the season got underway with a less than stellar 99-91 loss to the depleted Dallas Mavericks, Gasol showed why he's more than ready for a breakout year. He had 23 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks against the Mavs and was easily the most complete player on the court for the Lakers Tuesday night.
After helping the Lakers get to three straight NBA Finals, the past two years have been rough for Pau and many have suggested it was time for the team to trade him and get rid of his $19 million a year contract.
Listening to Gasol, you often sense that he feels the pressure to succeed and show management they made a good decision in not unloading him this summer.
Gasol told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News
The things that you have to understand are that the expectations are high, all eyes are on you and there’s going to be pressure to deliver. It’s obviously a big responsibility. You’re wearing a shirt that you have to carry yourself with class, elegance and responsibility and respect. If you don’t, we all know what can happen.
After a shoddy performance by his teammates on Tuesday night, Gasol really could be talking about everyone wearing the purple and gold. He delivered. Now he needs to see the same from a team that has the highest expectations in the NBA.