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Why Pau Gasol Is Most Critical Piece to LA Lakers' Puzzle in 2013-14

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Why Pau Gasol Is Most Critical Piece to LA Lakers' Puzzle in 2013-14
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Pau Gasol of the LA Lakers

The successes and failures of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2013-14 will largely revolve around Pau Gasol, given his importance to the team.

The two-time champion is a stud low-post player, and the Lakers will need his offense going forward.  Gasol is a rare front-line talent that effectively scores with his back to the basket and also from mid-range.

Mike D’Antoni will use him at center, where he will take advantage of opposing big men attempting to defend him. Indeed, the Spaniard will be utilized both on the block and in the high post.

His mid-range jumper is deadly enough to pull away defenders from the paint, and that should open up the floor for his teammates, which also gives Gasol angles to deliver pinpoint passes.

As a member of the Lakers, the two-time Olympic silver medalist has demonstrated he is an elite-passing big man, which will be important in D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll offense that relies on shooting and passing.

Keep in mind, Kobe Bryant’s recovery from his Achilles tear comes with uncertainty as it pertains to his return date. Thus, Los Angeles will need scoring and playmaking from Steve Nash and a secondary source.

Gasol fits the bill on this front. It’s worth mentioning that the four-time All-Star spent the entirety of 2012-13 playing out of position, and it affected his productivity. He still managed to incorporate himself into the offense and helped out his teammates with 4.1 assists per game.

Gasol accomplished this despite being relegated to the perimeter, where he was mostly ineffective. In his second season with D’Antoni, the Spaniard returns to his natural position with Dwight Howard no longer a member of the Purple and Gold.

Consequently, Gasol will more than likely regain his All-Star form because he will once again enjoy a role in which he is familiar with the requirements. Furthermore, his skill set is tailor made for the center position.

That incentive alone should push Gasol to play at a high level. However, in the event it does not, the former Memphis Grizzly is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season.

Gasol has stated numerous times that he enjoys being a Laker, and thus we are left to conclude that he has no intention of leaving the franchise. He shared as much with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

I'd love to continue to play with the Lakers [next year]. We've been through so much together. Mostly amazing moments and some hard moments too. It's like a relationship. If you're still together, it shows improved strength and consistency and how solid the relationship is. Hopefully we'll see if we can extend it.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James on the LA Lakers?

Mind you, the Lakers will have a huge amount of cap space available in the summer of 2014, and they are reportedly planning on using it to bring in superstars such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Accomplishing such a feat comes with incredibly long odds since it requires James and Anthony to opt out of their respective contracts and leave their current teams in favor of the Lakers.

Also, Bryant will have to see his salary reduced in order for the Lakers to sign both players—or merely one of them. This entails that the front office must renounce Gasol’s cap hold and watch him hit the open market.

In the event the Lakers select that route, it is all but guaranteed that Gasol will be playing in a new uniform when the 2014-15 season opens.

Thus, the 2013-14 campaign is a huge one for the Spaniard. His next contract will likely be his last one. Hence, it’s in his best interest to look like the player that helped the Lakers reach three consecutive NBA Finals.

Gasol is in a perfect spot when it comes to increasing his value after performing below his standards in the 2012-13 season. The two-time champion is the only center on the team that can consistently create high-percentage scoring plays both for himself and his teammates.

Chris Kaman is a good low-post threat, but he is also turnover prone. In addition, he struggles to finish against length and is a defensive liability. Indeed, he does not defend well in space and provides very little rim protection.

The Lakers still have Jordan Hill to play at the center position, but he is not the offensive player that Gasol is. Hill provides hustle and rebounding but cannot generate quality looks against tough interior defenders.

And then there is Robert Sacre, who is essentially a poor man’s version of Hill. Put it all together and Los Angeles does not have another player on the roster that brings Gasol’s contributions to the table.

That makes him the most essential piece to the Lakers in 2013-14. One could argue that Bryant is more critical, and that would be fair. However, the Purple and Gold can replicate some the 2-guard’s playmaking with Nash, and his scoring will be redistributed among players like Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Gasol, to some extent.

On the flip side, Gasol’s ability to catch in traffic while in movement and finish is not available in any other big man on the roster. In addition, his rebounding prowess, defensive play and offensive talent make him a unique package that the Lakers simply cannot keep off the floor.

D’Antoni will probably be able to cope with an injury at any position other than center given how crucial Gasol is to the team’s success. The Lakers have solid backup options at every spot save for the pivot.

The spread pick-and-roll will work in L.A. because Gasol can make all of the reads on the floor and play in concert with his teammates.

Although this will sound like a hyperbolic statement, Gasol has a Bill Walton-like quality to his game. He will accept being featured on offense and capitalize off of that by making whatever plays are required from him.

And in the same breath, if the team goes away from him in an effort to highlight another advantage they have, the Spaniard will welcome the adjustment and move in that direction as well.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

That mindset has allowed him to thrive while playing alongside Bryant in Los Angeles, despite the numerous times the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has thrown him under the bus. Gasol’s personality and demeanor make him the perfect center for the Lakers.

The team truly has no replacement for him in the event he gets injured. He accepts the team hierarchy and consistently performs to the best of his capabilities when placed in a position to be successful.

Surprisingly, the Lakers need Gasol more than he needs them going into 2013-14. That makes the upcoming season all that more intriguing given that Los Angeles’ future plans do not involve the Spaniard at first glance.

It will be fascinating to watch the 2014 offseason play itself out with respect to Gasol and the Lakers, considering that by then, the two-time champion will need the Purple and Gold.

Mind you, until that time comes, Gasol is the most critical piece of the Lakers' puzzle.

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