Though many have spent the better part of two years arguing whether Johnson or Stoudemire is the most overpaid superstar in the league, they've officially been dethroned in favor of Gasol.
Yes, Gasol. The same Gasol who is being paid $19 million this season. The same Gasol who is owed more than $38 million over the next two years. And yes, the same Gasol who is currently in the midst of the worst season of his career.
To date, Gasol is averaging 12.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on just 42 percent shooting from the floor. He remains one of the best passing bigs the Association currently houses, but his 3.5 dimes per night are not enough to bear the weight of expectations his contract carries.
That has left Gasol toeing the line of being a non-factor with the Los Angeles Lakers, a reality most would have deemed impossible.
It's easy to look at the once prolific power forward and see a 32-year-old on the downswing of his career. It's more than simple to attribute Gasol's struggles to age and then move on. But his shortcomings stem from more than just the limitations Father Time poses.
Gasol is visibly struggling to adapt to coach Mike D'Antoni's system. While he remains one of the most mobile towers in the game, his lack of looks inside the post have killed his offensive production, obliterated his shooting percentage and destroyed his confidence. His failure to adapt to his "new" role hasn't helped his case, either.
While conforming to the mandates of a newly implemented offense is never a trivial task, Gasol's lack of evolution within Los Angeles is truly disconcerting, demoralizing and anything but indicative of his paycheck.
I understand that Stoudemire is currently sitting on the shelf while earning nearly $20 million and that Joe Johnson has no business making $19.8 million, but Gasol has even less of a right to his salary at this point.
Most considered the contracts Johnson and Stoudemire inked back in 2010 to be borderline cancerous, and both subsequently fell out of financial favor last season. Such a lofty pay scale landed Johnson with the Brooklyn Nets and has kept Stoudemire in—never out of—unsubstantiated trade rumors.
And yet, are either of them as overpriced as Gasol is now?
Even at their worst, Johnson and Stoudemire have not played as poorly as Gasol is now playing. Even at their worst, they have not handicapped their team the way Gasol has handicapped the Lakers.
Brooklyn's Johnson is having by far the worst season of his career since he earned his claim to stardom. He's averaging just 14.9 points on 40.8 percent shooting per 36 minutes. Stoudemire—who has yet to play this season—is fresh off a 2011-12 campaign in which he was deemed nearly worthless, yet he still managed to score 19.2 points on 48.3 percent shooting per 36 minutes.
By comparison, however, Gasol is totaling just 13 points on 42 percent shooting from the floor per 36 minutes this season, far worse than Stoudemire did last year and right in line with Johnson this year.
The kicker, though, is how detrimental Gasol's performance has been to his team.
Last season, with Stoudemire as a statistical anchor, the New York Knicks scraped and clawed their way to a seventh-seeded playoff berth, culminating in a first-round exit. With Johnson failing to meet expectations this season, the Nets have posted an 11-5 record, good for fourth-best in the Eastern Conference.
Los Angeles, however, has had no such luck. Gasol and crew are clinging to the eighth-best record in the Western Conference and are a mere loss away from finding themselves outside of the early playoff picture.
I ask you: How is that anything but atrocious?
No one's saying that Johnson and Stoudemire aren't overpaid, because they are. But Gasol's battle within himself has proven to be far more cataclysmic to his team's cause and, therefore, more expensive than the demises of Johnson and Stoudemire have ever been.
Even at their worst, we haven't seen either Johnson or Stoudemire put up such pathetic offensive numbers or look so disassociated from the game in general. And while we have to understand—or rather, assume—that Gasol is attempting to adjust to a new system, Stoudemire failed to adapt to Carmelo Antony's presence only last season and Johnson still doesn't know the inner workings of Brooklyn's attack himself.
Basically, the modifications—borderline sacrifices—Gasol finds himself trying to make are no different than the trials and tribulations of his overly compensated peers. His statistical output and overall impact on the game, however, are—and not in a good way.
Is this to say that Gasol doesn't have what it takes to succeed under D'Antoni or that he's incapable of regaining his footing?
Absolutely not, but his stay at rock bottom—permanent or not—has been extremely informative.
And what his time beneath the depths of competency has shown us is that his path to ruin—be it inevitable or existing—is far more devastating and subsequently expensive than any of the other superstars' in the league.
Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson included.
Stats in this article are accurate as of December 3, 2012.
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