The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled all season with Pau Gasol and are now doing the same without him. Somehow, though, the embattled power forward has become the lightning rod for criticism and the one player who everyone points to as the biggest problem in Los Angeles.
This has led to benchings from coach Mike D'Antoni and a cabal of trade rumors before Gasol went down with a knee injury.
While the trade waters have calmed down since Gasol initially left the lineup, the damage is done. The 32-year-old Spaniard is the next scapegoat in line, just waiting to be shipped out of town if things continue spiraling down the drain.
When, and if, that happens, shipping off Gasol would be over-reactionary nonsense directly in line with the team's firing of Mike Brown after just five games.
For those needing evidence of Gasol's value, one doesn't have to look too hard to find it.
Gasol will miss his sixth straight game on Thursday night against the Knicks. The Lakers are 1-4 in the first five games of Gasol's absence, while just one game under .500 with him in the lineup.
According to 82Games.com, the Lakers average 111.4 points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the court, which is little higher than the league-leading Thunder. When he's off the court? That number dips to 107.1 points per 100 possessions.
Los Angeles is also far better defensively (102.2 points allowed per possession on the floor versus 108.4 when he's off) with Gasol, so you get the point. Yet, a package spearheaded by Andrea Bargnani or Derrick Williams will somehow solve the ills?
All of that is to say Gasol is still an extremely effective force, despite having the worst season of his career. Gasol is putting up career lows in points per game (12.6) and field goal percentage (42.0), while grabbing his least amount of rebounds (8.9) in a half-decade
Those latter statistics are what makes justifying Gasol's scapegoat role easy for the uneducated masses.
By pointing to his lowered nightly line, both Lakers fans and management have come up with the theory that two dominant post players are hurting the team's offensive flow and costing the team games. As if Andrew Bynum isn't a dominating presence and the Lakers didn't win 62 percent of their games last season under Brown.
To put it another way, Mike D'Antoni is far closer to the crux of the problem in Los Angeles than Gasol.
After a 4-8 start, it's obviously easy to sit around and play armchair quarterback with the D'Antoni hire. I'm not using hindsight; I held the same position in the wee hours of Nov. 12 when the Lakers first made the announcement.
The Lakers were strong offensively and mediocre defensively under Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff.
Only two players, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, in the Lakers' fully healthy starting five are above-average defensively. The rest (yes, that includes Kobe Bryant) are middling at best and turnstiles at their worst.
That fact was unlikely to change under any coach, but certainly wasn't going to improve in D'Antoni's high-octane system.
All told, it's hard to blame D'Antoni for the Lakers' struggles. Sure, he could, and should, make adjustments to fit his roster. However, D'Antoni was offered one of the preeminent jobs in all of sports and was told to run his system with the only player he's had NBA success with—how could he say no?
What is the core problem for the Lakers?
What's more, D'Antoni wasn't hired to come in and change his system. He was brought in to bring Showtime back to Los Angeles, which is a problem in itself, and speaks to the true rotten core for the Lakers—upper management, particularly executive vice president Jim Buss.
According to Magic Johnson (via USA Today), it was Buss who pulled the strings to hire D'Antoni over Phil Jackson. And it's also Buss who is in the driver's seat of the "Get Pau outta here" bandwagon, according to Sheridan Hoops.
When it comes down to brass tacks, the on-court problems in Los Angeles don't start with D'Antoni, Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard or anyone else on the floor. They are symptomatic of what is looking more like top-to-bottom front office incompetency, spurred by reactionary thinking.
Mitch Kupchak has tried to be the voice of reason through this process, but if the team continues to struggle, it will be to no avail.
Gasol will be gone, off to some city where he will return to stardom and leave everyone in Lakerland wondering the same thing: Was it really Pau's fault to begin with?