The Los Angeles Lakers fell far short of expectations last season and have had to overcome immense adversity to begin the 2013-14 campaign. At the epicenter of it all has been All-Star forward Pau Gasol, whom the Lakers took off the trading block recently.
ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne reported on the matter, and it is a savvy short-term move by general manager Mitch Kupchak that should keep the squad's spirits high in these trying times:
Gasol has been a franchise cornerstone for years and is a two-time NBA champion, so he's clearly no slouch.
But as a thriving force in the post as both a scorer and a passer, he has struggled to find his niche in head coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense that is designed for a prototypical stretch 4.
The veteran has done his best to make it work and is still playing at a rather high level while also providing LA with some much-needed size and a rebounding presence on the interior.
With standout players such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Steve Blake being out of the lineup for much of the season, there has been little continuity and a thinning of personnel in the backcourt.
It was Gasol's turn to sit with an illness for Saturday's loss to Golden State, per Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears:
Until then, though, Gasol was the only Laker to start every game of the season amid D'Antoni's constant but necessary rotational reshuffling, per ESPN Stats & Info:
That the Lakers are still sporting a 13-14 record and are still well within striking distance of a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference is a minor miracle considering their calamities.
The leadership and confidence Gasol has exuded in a time when the legend in Bryant has been sidelined has been exceptional. As if to dispel any notions of a trade, Gasol tore it up his last time out, putting up 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In spite of his individual greatness, the 33-year-old deflected praise to his teammates:
Even before then, the big man had upped his play and attempted to make peace with D'Antoni after publicly voicing his displeasure with his role. Shelburne made note of that as part of the reason the Lakers retained Gasol:
Although he did turn it over seven times in the win over Minnesota, it was a sign that Gasol's aggressiveness wasn't in short supply, which he implied was diminished in light of his role in D'Antoni's offense.
This type of perseverance amid dire personal and team circumstances is something Gasol can hang his hat on as long as it continues.
Kupchak and Co. had to see his value as a mentor, but what has been most pleasant in this development is Gasol's attitude and willingness to give his all in what could have already been a lost season for the Lakers.
Instead, Gasol is putting forth tremendous effort, his teammates are following and L.A. is competing for the postseason—confirming the value Gasol has had in the past and how critical he is now to the team's success.