Can Gasol actually be the biggest problem on this straining franchise? Is he really the only reason this club has dropped four games to teams with losing records (Portland, Utah, Sacramento and Orlando)?
Gasol surely deserves his share of the blame. The 2012-13 version is unlike anything basketball fans have witnessed over his 11-plus-year career. His scoring has plunged to a career-worst 12.6 points per game. His shooting struggles (42.0 percent from the field, also a career low) has dragged his player efficiency rating to just 15.0 (yet another career basement).
But remember, he's already played under three different head coaches this season (Mike Brown, interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff and Mike D'Antoni). He's suffered to stay effective, as the club has been forced to reach deep into their point guard depth chart after injuries to Steve Nash (leg) and Steve Blake (abdomen).
Then again, his teammates have been dealt the same hands. And they haven't seen anything resembling Gasol's struggles.
To make matters worse, the big man's difficulties have only increased under D'Antoni. He had suffered through a six-game stretch of 9.0 points per game on 37 percent shooting before being shut down with what the team's calling tendinitis in both knees (according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com).
Gasol's play this season has fueled the trade rumor mill. And it may be close to reaching its boiling point:
Lakers reportedly tell Gasol to adjust or be dealt on.si.com/11Aa6IN— SI NBA (@si_nba) December 4, 2012
The play of Gasol's replacement, Antawn Jamison, during the team's 107-105 loss to the Rockets (15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds) only dumped kerosene on the fire.
A quick scan of the rumor mill finds a variety of names speculated to draw the interest of the Lakers in any potential Gasol trade. The players mentioned fit one of two categories: stretch forwards capable of hitting perimeter shots (Toronto's Andrea Bargnani or New Orleans' Ryan Anderson), or athletic forwards capable of finishing pick-and-rolls at the basket (Atlanta's Josh Smith, New York's Amar'e Stoudemire or Golden State's David Lee).
These players have talent, but they can't compare to the well-rounded game of the four-time All-Star in Gasol. None of the aforementioned players have the offensive post game of the Spaniard, and only Smith plays better defense.
The words patience and Lakers are rarely intertwined. Remember, this is the same franchise that cut ties with Brown just five games into the regular season.
But it's a virtue that the Lakers must discover. Perhaps Nash is the saving grace who can make Gasol successful in D'Antoni's offense. Perhaps the coach needs to adjust his game plan to put Gasol in the types of situations that he's thrived on in the past. Or maybe that tendinitis is the real root of his struggles.
The collection of players speculated to be available to the Lakers will all come with gambles. Smith's a free agent after the 2012-13 season. Lee's long been said to be a player who pads his stats on bad teams. Stoudemire hasn't even returned yet from his latest injury. And Bargnani and Anderson have never been close to Gasol's category.
Laker fans may feel that their team cannot afford to wait for Gasol to figure it out. But making a deal just to rid themselves of Gasol could set this organization back even further than his struggles already have.
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