Let's see if Pau Gasol can climb to his feet and help the Lakers climb with him.
Pau Gasol was once considered an impact player and was valued as a high-class big man in the NBA. I'm here to tell you that after turning 33 in July, he will be as capable as ever of turning in valuable minutes.
That's not to tell you Pau doesn't have flaws or critical facets of his game to fix up before a new season begins. That's what we've come here to discuss.
Gasol has to improve his defense and rebounding, toughness and ability to play off the bench. That's quite an offseason.
Defense and Rebounding
When the bullfighter waves his red flag and the confused bull rushes under the empty curtain, a frenzied crowd yells "olé." While the Staples Center is hardly a Spanish bullfighting ring, the Lakers' 7-foot Spaniard has given his crowd reason to call out "olé."
Unfortunately for Pau, his crowd does so with far less adoration and rather wishes he would stay firmly in front of his adversaries when they approached the basket.
Fortunately, for the keys to being a successful rim protector, he need look no further than to his own brother, NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol.
What he could learn how to do is efficiently use his length within the bounds of the NBA's verticality rules. That means staying tall and using his long arms to block more shots and make the offense's job a challenge. All without picking up fouls.
His still-unsigned potential teammate Dwight Howard is well-versed in the art of defending the paint. Even in an injury-plagued season, Howard was among the strongest at his position.
They both need to rebound better. The Lakers finished fourth in total rebounding, but they placed only ninth in the NBA in rebounding differential, only capitalizing for plus-2.15 per game (per NBA.com statistics). I may be a bit critical, as those are both top-10 efforts, but a team with two such talented big men needs to rank nearer the top.
Pau has the support system and a full offseason to improve a critically lacking part of his game. Whether or not Gasol can rise throughout the latter part of his career depends on the next characteristic he needs to improve.
When the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, Pau was outplayed by Kendrick Perkins (where did you go, Perk?) both physically and mentally.
Pau turned up his efforts in both 2009 and 2010 and, with Kobe Bryant, led the Lakers to two titles.
Times are different now. Pau isn't even second fiddle, which clearly has unsettled him a bit. Gasol is usually a consummate professional. He plays with pride, but this year he became victim to a wounded ego.
In some sense, he was justified in complaining about inconsistent playing time and an enigmatic spot on his coach's list of favorites. However, Gasol failed to recognize his place in the franchise when complaining about playing time midseason.
In a new, full season with Howard at his side, Pau will have no choice but to accept his new role and play it with an aggressive attitude.
Playing off the Bench
Pau Gasol would start on many NBA teams next season as a big-minutes center.
On this Lakers team, he is trending toward seeing more time with coach Mike D'Antoni's reserve units. Given that he underwent offseason surgery to repair tendinitis in both knees, his minutes will likely continue to decrease.
Pau is a known offensive threat who would do well to be a primary option on the floor. For that to be the case, he will need to log more minutes with the reserve unit. He has the potential to be a weapon behind Howard when the Lakers go to smaller centers, but he can also improve his performance with Dwight on the floor.
With the way the NBA is trending, trotting out two towers may become a strategy that gets left behind. Athleticism is at a premium. Despite being supremely coordinated and a master of finesse at close range, Pau cannot run and jump with the bigger 4s in the NBA, all of which renders him less effective when lined up alongside Howard.
Instead of looking at it as a demotion, Gasol may view a bench role as a tool to display what he can add to a team after his contract terminates.
Can Pau do it all?
We know he can shoot well, but his most recent 46.6 percent effort was well below his career average of 51.8 percent. Chalk that up to injury, confusion and a consistent lack of team identity, and you have your not-so-bad anomaly of a season for Pau offensively.
He's also a skilled passer and has serious potential to feed a simple offensive animal in Dwight Howard. If you are one who thinks he can't get along with Dwight in the painted area, first remember his success with Andrew Bynum.
Second, look at his improvement in assisting near the rim (via Hoopdata). Pau averaged 3.0 assists that lead to shots at the rim over his last 10 games in 2013. Although a small sample size, that was the only period of time during the Lakers season that I can remember he and Dwight playing healthily together.
If all else fails, maybe Pau will draw motivation from the fact that he is playing for a new contract at the end of the season.