Pau Gasol Must Get Head on Straight Before Returning from Injury

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Pau Gasol Must Get Head on Straight Before Returning from Injury
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Pau Gasol's 2012-13 season has been disastrous for both the big man and the Los Angeles Lakers franchise.

His knee tendinitis (which has kept him out of the past three games) allowed him a brief reprieve from the grind that is underperforming in a major media market. With his scoring (13.0 points per game) and shooting (42.0 field-goal percentage) in a tailspin, he and his teammates have been pestered with questions about his future in the purple and gold.

Entrenched at the forefront of the trade rumor circuit, the big man's injury could not have come at a better time. A move away from the omnipresent L.A. media could allow Gasol to shift his attention away from his future and back to his present.

But this period of basketball R and R (rehab and relaxation) could be nearing its end. Gasol told The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding that he feels an "improvement" in his knees.

When he will return to the NBA hardwood (and under the watchful eye of the media) remains unclear. The impact of his return is just as foggy. If it looks anything like this, it could take a while for that impact to turn positive.

It's been this kind of season for Gasol. Even the easy ones have been tough to come by.

Some daunting tasks lie in the wait for this franchise and their four-time All-Star. Fitting him into Mike D'Antoni's scheme hasn't been easy and won't be until the coach is willing to modify his system to exploit the strength of this frontcourt. And those media-aided trade winds won't stop blowing any time soon.

But there's another struggle looming that will prove greater than both of those items combined. It's a deeper, more personal issue that the Lakers and their power forward must confront

Outside of some supportive words from Kobe Bryant (via ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne), this franchise has done little to repair their fractured relationship with their forgotten star.

Gasol's departure from L.A. was supposed to have happened already. The team included him (along with Lamar Odom) in a David Stern-nixed trade that would have made Chris Paul a Laker (via LATimes.com).

By the time Stern stepped in (reportedly at the behest of several NBA owners, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Brian Kamenetzky), the damage had already been done. Odom, distraught by the team's willingness to trade him, demanded a trade and received one to the Dallas Mavericks. Paul found his own way out of New Orleans, landing with the L.A. Clippers.

But Gasol was stuck in limbo. He didn't ask for a trade, and the team either no longer planned to deal him or could not find a trade partner with the right pieces.

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So he quietly returned to a franchise that had nationally voiced their opinion of his playing ability. And that opinion was anything but praise. Gasol's numbers dipped last season, although not as abruptly as this season's collapse.

The Lakers have to find a way to convince Gasol that he is part of their future. They reportedly promised Steve Nash that Gasol would not be traded, a requirement from the former Suns point guard to sign with the team (according to Comcast Bay Area's Ric Bucher).

But that's not enough to rebuild the confidence in Gasol that helped him play a vital role in two NBA titles in his first two full seasons with the franchise.

The longer the Lakers wait to publicly declare Gasol an integral part of their organization, the more damage they'll have to control. They may be hesitant to make that statement, in case a better trade offer awaits them.

But it's something that must be done before this relationship sours beyond repair.

The team trainers can help Gasol confront his injury woes. But they're doctors, not therapists.

A healthy Gasol will help this team win games. But a healthy Gasol with a clear mind could help them win championships.

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