Kobe Bryant's Bond with Pau Gasol Won't Take Lakers Big Man off Trade Block

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Pau Gasol #16 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game with the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center on January 29, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. . The Lakers won 111-106.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Pau Gasol knows he has at least one supporter left in the Los Angeles Lakers organization—superstar Kobe Bryant.

Gasol, in his most recent weekly column for Spanish website Marca.com (translated at HoopsHype.com), thanked Bryant for his support over the five-plus seasons he's spent in Los Angeles. Gasol added that Bryant's support has become increasingly important over his past two seasons, which he called "the most difficult for me."

But what Gasol doesn't know, and frankly what none of us do, is what exactly that support means in regard to his future with the franchise.

He's spent a good portion of the year rehabbing various ailments, most recently a tear in his plantar fascia in his right foot that has put the rest of his regular season in serious doubt (via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times). When he has been healthy enough to play, Gasol has suffered through the worst statistical season of his career (13.4 points on 45.3 percent shooting from the field).

Clearly, Gasol remains a puzzle yet to be solved by current Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. Gasol's most effective areas on the floor (high and low post) wreak havoc on the spacing needed to run D'Antoni's pick-and-roll sets. What resulted was an awkward run featuring Gasol finding touches at or near the three-point line, trying to become the stretch forward that he'd never been in his 12-year career.

As that experiment (predictably) went from bad to worse in a short amount of time, D'Antoni relegated Gasol to his second unit. The vaunted-post pairing of Gasol and Dwight Howard would be limited to a few spot minutes, with both players essentially seeing the floor only when the other was on the bench.

Gasol has not been thrilled by the demotion to say the least (via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times). But with L.A. still on the hook for eight figures to both D'Antoni and former coach Mike Brown, it's unlikely that Gasol will have a new coach before the end of the season.

Unless, of course, the Lakers decide to trade the big man.

The rumor mill has been a familiar setting for Gasol over the past few seasons. But analysts had a hard time gauging the 32-year-old's trade value given his struggles on the floor and his loaded contract for the 2013-14 season ($19.3 million). And that was before his potentially season-ending injury further complicated matters.

Even with this uncertainty, though, it seems that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is ready to embark through some murky trade waters to see what he can get in return for his former All-Star.

And he'll do so with or without Bryant's support. He made that much clear when he dangled Gasol on the trade market last season, much to Bryant's dismay (via USA Today). The franchise's decision to name D'Antoni over former coach (and Bryant's choice) Phil Jackson only highlights the fact that Bryant's influence is waning.

With that said, though, this is not to suggest that Gasol's Laker days are numbered. In fact, he's likely stuck in L.A. until the franchise has an idea about impending free-agent Dwight Howard's future plans.

The Lakers are hamstrung with Gasol, no matter what Bryant, D'Antoni or even Kupchak may think of him. His declining production and increasing salary would leave the Lakers losing value in any potential trade, possibly a major hit. And that aforementioned uncertainty with Howard potentially leaves L.A. with only seldom-used rookie Robert Sacre at the center position if they trade Gasol now, then lose Howard in free agency.

Bryant's support has clearly lifted Gasol's spirits, and that's only a good thing; the guy has obviously endured as frustrating of a season as he's ever encountered in the NBA.

But that support doesn't guarantee Gasol any roster security. His remaining contract and level of play will take care of that.