As he works his way back from a concussion, Gasol will be coming off the pine, which is where he should stay.
It's no secret that Gasol has struggled to establish any sort of consistency within Mike D'Antoni's statistically sound—because its not structurally sound—up-tempo offense. As we've watched an injury-riddled and visibly drowsy Gasol run the floor, it's become clear he's not fit for a blueprint as free-flowing as this one; he needs structure.
Gasol isn't going to find that sense of bureaucracy in the starting lineup. Not when he's tasked with thinking and reacting on the fly from where he's least comfortable—the perimeter.
D'Antoni's offense is predicated upon perpetual improvisation, aside from the decree that just one big man be surrounded by a faction of floor-spacers. Versatile though Gasol is, he's not a floor spacer. He can stretch the defense with his ability to hit a jump shot, but it's not an habitual ability.
Pau belongs in the post, where he is a primary pick-and-roll man who can step out and hit the occasional jumper when one of his wings is looking to post up or, in Kobe's case, isolate.
But he doesn't have that option alongside Dwight Howard; he doesn't have that option in this system—unless he comes off the bench.
It's there that he will be subject to an environment where set plays are run courtesy of limited talents; it is there will be he the focal point of the pick-and-roll and the lone tower seeking shelter in the paint.
And there's never been a better time to put him there than now.
At present, Los Angeles is without Jordan Hill and the suddenly relevant Mr. Irrelevant in Robert Sacre is far too raw to play extended minutes.
Los Angeles needs capable size to place within the latter half of its rotation.
I say "need," because the Lakers' second unit is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of production. They're scoring a league-worst 20.5 points per game and rank 22nd in points allowed per game (32.9) as well.
Outside of this season, Gasol has never averaged fewer than 17 points per game nor shot less than 48 percent from the field. His presence off the pine deepens and injects instant offensive potential into a emaciated supporting cast.
The big man's understated (though not at all dominant) defense also stands to be of more use. According to 82games.com, opposing big men are posting an average PER of just 12.8 per 48 minutes against Gasol. For a bench that allows so many points and ranks 22nd in rebounds (12.8), his presence is a difference maker.
So why not put Gasol within a lineup that needs him?
Somewhat perplexingly, D'Antoni himself (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com) has been averse to putting Gasol where he can dominate:
"(Bringing Gasol off the bench) would be tough," D'Antoni said before Tuesday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks. "We'll see (how) everything kind of plays out the way it is, but that's not my intention right now."
When D'Antoni was asked a string of follow-up questions about Gasol's role when he returns, the coach allowed that bringing the Spaniard off the bench could be a future consideration.
"We're going down a road that I don't want to go yet, so we'll worry about that when it gets there," D'Antoni said.
I don't understand the trepidation or dilemma behind bringing Gasol off the bench. D'Antoni is actively avoiding the subject as if it will be some sort of conflict. But there's no Catch-22 here at all.
Egos were meant to be bruised, especially as players age. Amar'e Stoudemire has come to accept his role within the second unit, why wouldn't the ever-humble Gasol? Especially when it benefits him more than anyone?
There's enough offense and size in the starting lineup without Gasol, but there's next to none in Los Angeles' secondary. It's there that the Spaniard is needed; it's there he can play to his strengths.
Gasol converts on 45 percent of his attempts within nine feet, but just 30.1 percent from beyond there. But we've known this. He's at his best near the basket. We also know there's little to no opportunity for him to play there next to Howard.
Playing away from him would allow Gasol to get back to his roots, to where he helped the Lakers win two championships and where he has exploited defenses from his entire career.
Does he really want to continue to play where he's regressed into an afterthought? Or would he rather serve as a savior for a convocation of backups dragging the Lakers down?
Accepting that Gasol should come off the bench is not a compliance to his demise. It's an active recognition that this team cares about both the performance of him, and the face of the collective.
"My job and everybody's job is get the best team on the floor at all times, and (I'm) trying to find that combination," D'Antoni had said.
That "combination" already exists, though. It's a failure to acknowledge its essence that is preventing the Lakers from putting the best possible product on the floor.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of Jan. 16, 2013.