And yes, they need Pau Gasol, too.
After being the subject of a blitzkrieg of trade rumors last season and into this past summer, Gasol was immediately lost in the shuffle of the Howard and Nash acquisitions. His performance thus far has also flown under the radar, courtesy of a surging Bryant.
But that has to change.
Los Angeles is not a deep team by any means. Its starting lineup is brimming with All-Stars, but its bench is nonexistent. This lack of depth has left the Lakers at the mercy of their starters and how well they perform. Every single one of them—including Gasol.
While the towering Spaniard isn't having a bad season, he has been underwhelming in the early going. He's averaging just 14 points on 43 percent shooting, both career lows.
More troubling than his stat line, however, is how he's gotten there. Gasol has literally disappeared on a number of occasions.
To date, he has taken 11 shots or less over the course of an entire game five times. He's also scored 14 points or less points six times.
That's not going to work. Not if the Lakes want to win consistently.
For Los Angeles to truly become the contender it was supposed to be, for it to spit in the face of its lack of depth, Gasol needs to amp up his production. He needs to become more aggressive and more assertive in everything he does.
I'm not the only one noticing, either. Both Kobe and Mike D'Antoni took exception to Gasol's string of inconsistency after he posted a pitiful eight points on 30 percent shooting in the Lakers' loss to the Sacramento Kings. Mark Media of the Los Angeles Daily News reported:
"Pau is used to laboring up the floor and coasting a little bit," Bryant said. "In this offense, we have to put the motor on the first few steps we move up the court."
That didn't happen.
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins beat Gasol on two consecutive drives in the second quarter. The Lakers forward looked frustrated after defensive breakdowns. And as coach Mike D'Antoni noted afterward, "Pau didn't have his legs" after logging 37 minutes.
Though D'Antoni is the offensive authority in Tinseltown right now, you just know there's a problem when Bryant involves himself. Especially when it comes to Pau, as the two have established quite a connection over the past six years.
Which means Gasol cannot simply take his struggles, or the reactions of Bryant and D'Antoni, lightly. He has to take them to heart, and then put an end to them.
The power forward's shortcomings have nothing to do with age. Believing that at 32 he is not a good fit for this run-and-gun system is ignorant. His legs are certainly not what they used to be, but he remains one of the most mobile big men in the game. So, in terms of maneuverability, it's not going to get much better than Gasol.
The actual problem is his timidness to date. Sure, he's playing alongside a trio of other All-Stars, but Nash is injured and Howard is currently limiting himself offensively as well.
There's absolutely no reason why Gasol should be averaging the lowest point total of his career and shooting the ball less than he has the past two years.
None at all. Meaning?
Much like it is with Howard, the Lakers win more when Gasol scores. This season alone, when he has posted 16 or more points, Los Angeles stands at 4-2. And when he attempts 15 or more shots per game, the Lakers are 3-1.
Call it a coincidence if you'd like, but it's not. No matter how many stars the Lakers are able to stash away, Gasol is still important. With Howard adjusting to life in Los Angeles, Nash on the sidelines and a bench attack worthy of Smush Parker's presence, Gasol has never been more important.
It's perfectly fine to acknowledge that he is the fourth-most talented star on a Lakers team with four All-Stars, but for him to play with the indifference of a mere complementary piece is not fine.
Gasol has to attack. He's averaged 17 or more points in every one of his 11 NBA seasons. Are we supposed to chalk that up to dumb luck or favorable circumstances?
Absolutely, positively not.
He's excelled on bad teams, yes, but he's also dominated on championship ones. Just ask Kobe, or even the exiled Phil Jackson. They'll be the first to admit that Gasol is capable of so much more.
Relegating the Lakers to the NBA's basement because of a seemingly disinterested Gasol is extreme. Even with him failing to meet expectations, Los Angeles is a good team.
But not a great one. If it was, it wouldn't be 0-4 when Gasol drops 10 or less points in a game. It wouldn't be fighting to stay above .500 amid the worst season of Pau's career. It wouldn't be losing to a lower than lowly team like the Kings when Gasol struggles.
And, most importantly, Kobe and the soft-spoken D'Antoni wouldn't feel the need to address his demerits.
Because the Lakers need an aggressive Gasol to contend for a championship. They need him in general.
That's been the case for the past six years, and it stills holds true today.
More than ever.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 23, 2012.
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