If the Los Angeles Lakers' season wasn't lost already, it is now. Seven-footer and phenomenal low post player Pau Gasol tore the plantar fascia in his right foot in the team's win against the Brooklyn Nets on February 5, and is expected to miss four to six weeks (h/t ESPN Los Angeles).
Throw in that star center Dwight Howard has already missed three consecutive games with a sore shoulder, and the Lakers frontcourt needs a lot of help.
Unfortunately, any help that it receives will be too little too late. Gasol may have been having the worst season of his career, posting just 13.4 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting only 45 percent from the field (his career mark is 52 percent), but his abilities to work the low post and also stretch the floor are irreplaceable under the Lakers' current circumstances.
Look at it this way. Now that Gasol is hurt, the Lakers have only two players who can come off the bench and help out in the frontcourt: the aging Antawn Jamison and rookie Robert Sacre.
Jamison has talent, but is little more than a three-point shooter at this point. It also doesn't help that he is 36 years old and can no longer stand and bang under the basket like he used to.
Sacre is no better. He has size at 7'0", 260 pounds, but is an extremely raw talent and did not do a good job of stepping up when called upon to start earlier this season. He may see some extended minutes now that Gasol is out, but Lakers fans should not expect him to make much of a difference.
Granted, team GM Mitch Kupchak could look to sign free agents to fill the void left by Gasol, or even try and make a trade. Low post players like Paul Millsap could be available at the trade deadline, and an addition of that caliber could help the Lakers if they decide to play it conservative with Gasol's foot.
Even if Kupchak does make a trade, however, the Lakers are not going to make the playoffs without a healthy Gasol to help them over the next month or so. The team has won three in a row and six of seven, but is still 23-26 and three games out of the final playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Can the Lakers make the playoffs without Pau Gasol?
More importantly, if the Lakers are destined to perform well sans Gasol, they are also banking on the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets going through terrible slumps and falling out of the playoff picture. Given the boatload of talent on both teams, the odds of that happening are slim.
That all being said, all that Kupchak and Jerry Buss can really do is take a Mulligan on the 2012-13 season and focus their efforts on making sure Dwight Howard re-signs with the team in July. This is a Lakers team that certainly has what it takes to win, but that's not going to happen this season.
Gasol is too important to the team, and the Lakers' performance without him over the next four to six weeks is going to show just that.