Pau Gasol: How Injury Can Seal Forward's Fate with Los Angeles Lakers

Mike MoraitisAnalyst IFebruary 8, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 126-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Pau Gasol's injury can be seen as a devastating blow to the Los Angeles Lakers, but it also allows for a trial period of sorts that could determine what his future with the team will be.

The Lakers have two obvious options with Gasol: trade him at some point this season or during the offseason or simply keep him.

The problem with keeping Gasol at this point is that he doesn't fit head coach Mike D'Antoni's system. The Los Angeles coach likes his big men to be able to spread the floor, and while Gasol has a solid mid-range game, he isn't a threat from beyond there.

Because of this, Gasol has been coming off the bench for D'Antoni, and that has made the 32-year-old unhappy, to say the least.

Gasol is still important to this team, however. He is a nice piece coming off the bench for L.A. as he averages 13.4 points and eight rebounds per contest. Furthermore, he gives the team necessary length, which the Lakers are sorely lacking with Jordan Hill out for the season.

An injury to the big man that will keep him out at least six weeks won't help his trade value any, and that's on top of an enormous contract that Gasol is attached to. Still, chances are there would be a team willing to take a chance on him, with an expiring contract after the 2013-14 season in mind.

General manager Mitch Kupchak has said very clearly that he doesn't plan on making any deals involving his top players this season, but that could very well change in the next few weeks or before the start of next season.

With Gasol being out for as long as he will be, the Lakers will have a great sample size to see just how much they truly need the Spaniard on their roster.

Los Angeles has been playing much better of late, and Gasol's presence on the bench seems to be a positive for the Lakers' starting five. Now, the true test will be to see if the team's bench responds in a similar way without Gasol on the floor.

D'Antoni will get a first-hand look at just how much better his reserves perform when they can spread the floor offensively and play within the system he desires. As it stood before his injury, the Lakers bench couldn't truly play that way when Gasol was out there.

If it turns out the Lakers bench outperforms itself in comparison to when Gasol is healthy and playing,  the seven-footer may be expendable. It will also prove that D'Antoni's system is working, and Gasol may be the bait the organization needs to bring in players more suitable to this style of play.

Granted, there's no telling if and when that deal will occur, but we should have a better understanding of just how important Gasol is to the Lakers and what his fate with the team will be moving forward while he's in the trainer's room.