Someone get Pau Gasol a parachute, because he's been in a free-fall for nearly two years.
Life as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers hasn't been easy for Gasol since 2011. He's gone from a heralded All-Star and championship pillar to a seven-foot impediment that has been relegated from the bench wondering if his days in Hollywood are numbered.
It's been that far of a fall, that steep of a decline for Pau.
After his arrival in Los Angeles, his story seemed poised to be a triumphant one. All-Star appearances, championships and overall consistency were supposed to be the pillars from which his narrative was constructed. Instead, his is rapidly becoming a tragic tale.
One that doesn't seem as if it's on the verge of being reversed.
February 2011: Pau Peaks
In 2011, Gasol was named to his fourth All-Star Game. It was his third consecutive appearance, and three out of his total four selections came with the Lakers.
Fittingly enough, the then-30-year-old Gasol had his best All-Star performance yet, dropping in 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds to help lead the Western Conference to a five-point victory over the East.
By all appearances, Gasol was at his best. Fresh off his second NBA championship, he was proving to be the same two-way force he had always been, maybe even better.
But such glory would be short lived, as Gasol almost immediately headed for a rapid decline.
May 2011: The Decline Begins
Los Angeles embarked on another postseason run it hoped would culminate in a third straight NBA title, Gasol proved to be a non-factor when it mattered most.
In 10 games, he averaged just 13.1 points on 42 percent shooting and watched all but helplessly as the Lakers fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs.
For Gasol, another blow came in the form of Phil Jackson's retirement.
When Jackson went, so did the Triangle offense—the very system that helped spark the Spaniard's rise to stardom in Tinseltown. Panicking this early seemed frivolous, yet after the poor performance Gasol put forth during the playoffs, it wasn't entirely unwarranted, either.
June 2011: Gasol Officially Hits the Rumor Mill
So much for a second chance, right?
Rumors continued to run amuck through the lockout's inception, yet nothing ever materialized. And while the work stoppage put an end to any serious trade rumors, it also prohibited Gasol from proving his doubters—especially the ones in L.A.'s front office—wrong.
So for months, Gasol sat with a bitter taste in his mouth. One that wasn't quelled even when the lockout came to an end.
December 2011: Lockout Ends as Does Gasol's Tenure With the Lakers...Or Not
The deal in question, however, was unceremoniously vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern. Unprecedented though it was, the league was running the Hornets at the time and was well within its rights to meddle.
And while Gasol remained in the City of Angels, the damage had been done. He wasn't just returning to suit up for a team that had discussed the possibility of moving him, but returning to one that had actually traded him.
Can you say awkward? Gasol took the events in stride and had to relish the opportunity to silence critics and doubters alike.
February 2012: Silence Never Comes
Gasol wasn't playing 2011-postseason bad, but he was passed over for the league's All-Star Game for the first time in three years.
Most wouldn't think this would mean much, but it was yet another sign the now-31-year-old Gasol was on the downswing of his career. The big man wasn't thriving under Mike Brown, and the Lakers went into the break with a mediocre 20-14 record.
Still, closing the book on Gasol wasn't imminent. Los Angeles hadn't reached that point.
March 2012: Have We Officially Reached that point?
As the trade deadline approached in the midst of the lockout-truncated season, Gasol's name was being tossed around by the day.
After an offseason and early season lined with trade talk, it seemed that this saga was finally coming to an end. Surely, Gasol's time in Los Angeles was over. Why else would the Lakers, by all appearances, be shopping him so aggressively?
To this day, I still can't figure out why this is where it didn't end. It seemed he and the Lakers had finally reached a crossroads; Los Angeles was finally going to ship him out somewhere.
But it didn't.
May 2012: Here We Go Again
Gasol survived a barrage of midseason trade rumors, but the Lakers, once again, couldn't survive the playoffs.
For the second straight year, L.A. was ousted in the second round of the postseason, this time at the hands of a young and exuberant Oklahoma City Thunder team. And, for the second straight year, Gasol struggled to produce.
In 12 playoff games, the Lakers tower averaged just 12.5 points on 43.4 percent shooting—a steep drop from the respective tallies of 17.4 and 50.1 during the regular season.
With the Lakers failing to remain competitive yet again, it became all too clear that changes were about to be made. Changes that would likely include Gasol.
May-June 2012: Still Going
And we thought the Lakers wasted little time in engaging in Gasol-inspired trade rumors in 2011.
Less than one month after Los Angeles was eliminated from the playoffs, Gasol's name was thrown around even more. This time, the Chicago Bulls emerged as a potential destination, the Brooklyn Nets got involved (sort of) and then we had the usual suspects in the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves. Given the Lakers' known interest in Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic remained a potential destination as well.
Even still, nothing ever materialized and Gasol remained a Laker...again.
July-August 2012: The Steve Nash and Dwight Howard Era Begins
In a move no one saw coming in the summer, the Lakers acquired future Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns. They followed that up with the acquisition of the once-elusive Howard as well.
Most importantly, though, both stars were obtained without Los Angeles dealing away Gasol. Color us all shocked.
The big man had been linked to so many rumors by that point, it seemed like a mere formality he was on his way out. Now, on the heels of a star-hoarded Lakers roster, he finally seemed safe.
Next to Nash and Howard, Gasol would be an afterthought for defenses, and would thus thrive. As such, Los Angeles was the season's preordained champion and Gasol's career (especially after a stellar performance at the Olympics) would be saved.
Or would it?
November 2012: Mike Brown Out, Phil Jackson Shafted and Mike D'Antoni In
After just five games and a 1-4 start to the 2012-13 campaign, the Lakers canned their head coach and opted to hire Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson.
Having coached Nash before (coupled with the support of Bryant and the athleticism of Howard), D'Antoni seemed like an ideal fit—for everyone but Gasol.
Jackson and his triangle offense—the same offense that helped propel Gasol to stardom—was the way to go for him. D'Antoni's fast-paced offensive system was not.
It not only didn't suit the increasingly arthritic and plantar fasciitis-riddled Gasol, but it also didn't call for more than one big man. And on a team that boasted Howard, we all know whom the Lakers would pick if forced to choose between Howard and Gasol.
December 2012: Here. We. Go. Yet. Again.
With Gasol struggling to fit into D'Antoni's system and Kobe demanding he put on his "big boy pants," it seemed that the seven-footer was readily available.
Hell, the Lakers even reportedly had preferred targets in mind. But, as always seems to be the case with Pau, nothing materialized. Not only that, but the Lakers actually rebuffed multiple trade offers for Gasol.
In hopes of Nash rekindling the Gasol's offensive fire, Los Angeles opted to remain patient. But for how much longer?
January 2013: The Final Straw?
Apparently, patience was wearing just about as thin as we thought in Hollywood. With Gasol averaging a career-low 12.7 points on a career-low 43.2 percent shooting, D'Antoni opted to move the forward to the bench for the "foreseeable future."
According to Craig Sager of TNT, Gasol isn't only unhappy with the decision, but he now sees a trade as a definite possibility.
Will Gasol request a trade? Will the Lakers just ship him out in favor of a stretch-4? Can things get any worse?
That's the 227-pound question everyone is trying to answer.
Beyond: What's Next
Gasol has been through a lot with the Lakers. He's won championships, seen the light of multiple All-Star games and emerged as one of the premier bigs the league has to offer.
But L.A. is also the place where his career is being killed not so softly. Bear in mind this is the same team that not only dangled him in various trades but actually dealt him—only to be thwarted by the commissioner himself. And now he's withering away right before our very eyes.
Considering the Lakers are now seven games under .500 and housing the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference, something clearly needs to change. And with Gasol having the absolute worst season of his career, something needs to change for him as well.
Is that "something" Gasol's mailing address, or will he come to embrace his role on the bench?
Normally, I would be inclined to suggest this is the last straw; I would predict that Gasol's days in the Land of Make Believe are numbered. Given how many last straws there have been in Los Angeles over the last two years, though, I'm not that stupid.
All we know now is that Pau Gasol has gone from a perennial All-Star to being trapped on the bench, from a championship cornerstone to a tactical impediment and subsequent scapegoat.
Oh, and we also know one more thing: That everything we think we know doesn't mean a darn thing. Because, as history shows us, no one—not us, not the Lakers, not Gasol himself—has any idea how, when or even if this soap opera is ever going to end.
*All stats current as of January 22, 2013.
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