Dwight Howard's Injuries, Future Prove Lakers' Pau Gasol Isn't Expendable

James Pearson@JKPIIICorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2013

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 7: Kobe Bryant #24 and Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on following a foul against the Boston Celtics during the game on February 7, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The NBA trade deadline is over and Dwight Howard is still a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Luckily, so is Pau Gasol.

A torn plantar fascia pretty much killed what was left of Gasol's trade value this season. The silver lining? It all but ensured that he will be a member of the Lakers heading into this summer. Howard, we're not so sure about.

As an unrestricted free agent, Dwight is able to simply walk away. Or, if he does stay, with his current injury problems and performance, the Lakers may or may not be better off.

When the Lakers traded for Howard, this is the player they thought they were getting.

A five-time All-NBA First Team center who was the reigning three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Instead, this is the version they got.

Good, but not quite the same dominant force that he used to be.

Sure, he is coming off back surgery and has still posted decent numbers, but does the Los Angeles Lakers version of Howard look like the old? Not really, so instead of a stud, the Lakers now have an injury-prone, chemistry-wrecking center that has apparently forgotten how to run the pick-and-roll.

Good thing that Gasol will be around for whatever may transpire this offseason.

If Dwight somehow gets back to the player he once was, is he really the person to lead the Lakers into their next era? The easy-going guy, the person who is always making fun of teammates—like this—as a member of such a storied franchise like the Lakers?

Not when that franchise is led by Kobe Bryant.

Really, do you think that the Black Mamba enjoys playing with this guy? Is he happy about having to likely play out his career alongside him?

Sure, according to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, Howard did say that he and his Laker teammates "have years to play with each other.”

But what if they end up missing the playoffs this season? Is that necessarily a good thing?

Remember, this is the same guy who gave us two seasons worth of Dwightmare. Would it be surprising if he decided to take less money to go back to being a bigger fish in a small pond, out from under the L.A. spotlight—to go to a team where he can have fun while surrounding himself with outside shooters like when he was with the Orlando Magic?

I wouldn't put that past him.

Or what if he re-signs and never recovers from his back surgery completely and the injuries just keep piling up?

Whatever happens with Howard, if he never returns to the same player he once was or if he does leave town, the Lakers should be glad that they still have Gasol.

Throughout his Laker career, Gasol has been a champion. He has yet to complain. He's been a true team player—even after being traded, and then not traded, being horribly misused and even relegated to being a sixth man before suffering his current injury, he has not made even a peep.

This summer, Pau will be around if the Lakers need him. Plus, he played very well when Howard was hurt, so they know that he has plenty left in the tank. He will provide a great safety net in case the worst happens and the Lakers miss the playoffs, and Kobe goes off, and then Dwight leaves town because of it.

Or if Howard never fully recovers from his injuries. Not many players are capable of returning to their old selves after serious back problems. Just ask Larry Bird and Brad Daugherty. Gasol will be around to cushion any future problems concerning Howard.

For example, if Howard does refuse to re-sign with the Lakers, hypothetically, wouldn't a sign-and-trade with the Atlanta Hawks for Josh Smith, whom they surprisingly kept at the deadline, make sense?

Dwight can go back to his hometown and back to having fun, while the Lakers would get a power forward who can play defense. Then, they can move Gasol back to the center position, where he belongs, and have Kobe ride out his golden years with those two and Nash.

It works!

It will be an interesting summer for the Lakers. Dwight could remain a Laker for years and get back to his dominant ways, although that is still a great unknown. No matter what has been or will be said, the Lakers will have plenty of options for whatever transpires and should consider themselves fortunate to have a player like Gasol to fall back on.