This is a question that has been posed for the better part of two years. As for the common response, most are inclined to believe that Gasol's dip in production does not reflect his world-class abilities.
Unfortunately, the Lakers will need to wait to discover a definitive answer.
According to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, Dr. Vern Williams has ruled Gasol out due to his recovery from a concussion. His return date is undefined.
Gasol saw Dr. Vern Williams on Thursday, and while the Spaniard showed improvement, he is still not cleared to play basketball. Gasol will be examined once again on Friday morning, in advance of the team’s Friday evening home game against Oklahoma City.
Even more impetus for a potential trade.
Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld.com recently tweeted that "it seems inevitable" that a trade would be executed. This comes on the heels of numerous reports stating that Gasol was a potential trade piece (via HoopsWorld).
With that being said, the Lakers will be in a much better position to win with Gasol in the rotation.
Proper Use of Gasol
The Los Angeles Lakers have the pure talent to become the most dominant team in the NBA. The key to meeting that potential is properly utilizing Pau Gasol.
The pressure is on.
"I think Pau continues to struggle to figure out how he's going to play with his group,"Kupchak said. "Our coaches are struggling as well. We're not going to succeed as a team until we figure that out."
Kupchak is spot-on with that evaluation.
Until the Lakers figure out what they're going to do with Gasol, they will continue to face defeat on a consistent basis. The question is, what is the proper use of Gasol?
Are the Los Angeles Lakers better off with or without Pau Gasol?
Running Small Ball
In accordance to the style of Mike D'Antoni's offense, the Los Angeles Lakers will see their greatest offensive results upon the utilization of a stretch big.
Considering Dwight Howard is the franchise center, that calls for a power forward that can space the floor with their jump shooting. Although capable, that is the improper role for Gasol to fill.
This creates the potential for "small ball."
Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are candidates to fill the role of floor spacing power forward. Although grossly underutilized, both men have quality play to offer.
Clark proved such by posting 22 points and 13 rebounds on January 9 against the San Antonio Spurs.
With this being known, one could make the argument that the Lakers are better off without Gasol. The numbers tell a different tale, though, as the Lakers have actually been superior with Gasol on the floor.
Thus far in 2012-13, the Lakers are just 3-7 when Gasol is absent from the rotation. They're 12-13 when he is healthy and playing.
They're also averaging 103.4 points scored and 99.4 points allowed per 48 minutes with Gasol on the floor. Those numbers drop to 102.3 points for and 103.4 points against with Gasol on the bench.
No numbers are impressive, but one is significantly better than the other.
Benefit of a Trade
One of the most popular theories in Los Angeles is that the Lakers will discover their greatest results by trading Pau Gasol. This is an option worth exploring, as Gasol is a former All-NBA power forward that is not far removed from his prime.
Unfortunately, Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld.com reports that the Lakers have been disappointed with what they've found on the trade market.
...the Lakers have surveyed the landscape regarding trades for [Pau] Gasol and have found the marketplace to be somewhat disappointing.
There are deals for Gasol, but all of them either have the Lakers taking back multiple assets, which they cannot do without eating some contracts or taking on bad financial deals.
With this being known, is it worth trading Gasol?
If the Lakers can find a way to work expiring contracts and athletic wings into the trade talks, the deal would be worth exploring. After all, the Lake Show is in dire need of explosive legs along the perimeter.
Whether or not it would be worth trading Gasol simply depends on the quality, and perhaps quantity, that L.A. would receive in return.
Finding Middle Ground
The key to Gasol discovering success in Los Angeles is to have him work near the basket. This creates a key opportunity for D'Antoni to place Gasol at the 5 during the second and early fourth quarters.
This will enable Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark to work the stretch. It will also open doors for Jordan Hill to succeed.
For the season, Hill is averaging 16.7 points and 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes that Gasol is on the floor. When Gasol is on the bench, however, those numbers drop to 14.4 and 12.7.
Most importantly, the duo has led the Lakers to a +/- of positive-7.9 when on the floor together.
With this being known, the Lakers are in prime position to create a dominant second unit. More importantly, they're being granted the opportunity to create a rhythm for Gasol entering the fourth quarter.
It is then, and only then, that the Lakers can improve their 24th-ranked fourth quarter scoring defense. Perhaps then, the Lakers can secure a consistent string of victories.