The Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt took another big hit today.
Pau Gasol’s MRI revealed that the injury he sustained Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets was a partial tear of the plantar fascia. With Dwight Howard's torn labrum still day-to-day, the Lakers are left extremely thin at the forward/center positions.
Robert Sacre is the only healthy center remaining on the roster, and the rookie is not what one would consider a viable option against any starting-caliber big man in the NBA.
Resurgent journeyman forward Earl Clark will no doubt be expected to shoulder more of the load, but his relatively small frame may prove troublesome against bigger frontcourts without Howard’s presence. Antawn Jamison's best defensive days—if they ever truly existed—are long behind him, and rotating Metta World Peace to the 4 either forces Coach Mike D'Antoni to play Kobe Bryant more minutes or play Devin Ebanks off the bench.
The options left to the Lakers are few.
The first option is to rush Dwight back into the lineup before he is ready. Kobe has already called out the mercurial star, but would an additional injury set-back be the spark that ignites a D12 free-agency walk? The Lakers may have to risk it, as every loss from here on out is another big blow to their postseason hopes.
Another alternative would be to explore their options in free agency. The recent injury exception given to the Lakers in the wake of Hill’s season-ending surgery is valued at $1.78 million.
Admittedly, the options available are largely underwhelming.
Former Lakers punch-line Troy Murphy is looking for an opportunity, but his utterly underwhelming stint with the team allows no chance of that.
Kenyon Martin remains the most attractive big still unsigned.
The 35-year-old forward most recently played for the Los Angeles Clippers after a brief stint in China. His name has been linked to the Celtics, Knicks and the Lakers this season, as each team has needed a stop-gap solution in the frontcourt at one time or another. However, his volatile reputation prevented him from receiving much more than interest.
The Lakers’ previous interest in the former No. 1 pick emerged with Jordan Hill’s season ending hip injury. Earl Clark’s sudden emergence—as well as the obvious reluctance to add a player known for his unpredictable temperament to a team with chemistry issues—made Los Angeles’ passing on Martin appear a godsend.
With Gasol out for 6-8 weeks and Howard needing some more time to heal his back and shoulder, the Lakers would do well to reconsider.
Martin’s defensive tenacity and versatility would serve the team well in the interim, and his size would help bolster a group severely lacking in paint-presence (evidenced by Brook Lopez’s recent 30 point, 11 rebound outing against the Howard-less Lakers).
Martin would also remain serviceable with the return of Howard to the lineup.
While his scoring average has dipped, he is aggressive on the glass, as demonstrated by his 1.8 career offensive rebounding rate. He has the range and ability to hit the mid-range jumper, giving another option to either Kobe or Nash when they penetrate or are double-teamed.
Finally, K-Mart doesn’t demand the ball, which would fit in ideally when playing alongside Howard and Kobe or on a second unit filled with outside shooters.
K-Mart had this to say back on Nov. 4, 2012:
"If someone calls me tomorrow, I don't care who it is, whether it's losing or winning at this point," Martin said. "If someone calls me tomorrow and wants me to come in, I'm going. Guys are going down and [teams] are like, 'Well, we are going to stick with what we got.' I'm like, 'Really?' I started questioning myself, 'Am I that bad of a guy?'"
Martin's abrasive reputation aside, the Lakers would do well to explore this option. His own admittance that he just wants to play allows the hope that he would be willing to stay tempered and play whatever role necessary—especially considering these comments were made three months ago.
And with Gasol and Howard out, the Lakers would offer him the best opportunity to prove his worth to the Association.