LA Lakers: Does Pau Gasol Still Deserve to Be Called a Superstar?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMay 12, 2012

DENVER, CO - MAY 06:  Kenneth Faried #35 of the Denver Nuggets and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers battle for rebounding position in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on May 6, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 92-88 to take a 3-1 lead in the series. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers stand on the brink of elimination in a first-round playoff series they should have already won, and if they should happen to lose Game 7 to the Denver Nuggets, there will be plenty of blame to go around.

Some of the criticism will fall on center Andrew Bynum and his inability to realize greatness, not because of injury but because of immaturity.

Head coach Mike Brown will undoubtedly be castigated for his poor game management, failure to set player rotations and his career-defining tendency to fold in end-game situations.

I'm sure the Lakers' lack of intensity and focus would be mentioned as well, along with the matador defense they have been playing in the last three games.

And inevitably forward Pau Gasol will shoulder much of the blame, and unfortunately there is nothing that gentle Pau can do that will stem the flood of criticism that will come his way if the Lakers should happen to lose in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

How can Gasol defend his 11 point, 7 rebound average against the much smaller Nuggets to a rational adult?

I have heard the excuses concerning Gasol's adjustment to Brown's system, and the time it takes to transition from the paint to the perimeter is a valid argument. Except, it doesn't make sense compared to Gasol's regular season performance.

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During the 66-game regular season Gasol averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds while being relegated to third-option status behind Kobe Bryant and the emerging Bynum, but in the postseason Gasol has regressed beyond that point.

Gasol's disappearing act this postseason may be just as bad as his fade last year, but this one is worse because it indicates a pattern.

Last season, Gasol's poor postseason performance was considered an anomaly until he became an afterthought in the next round against the Dallas Mavericks, who swept the Lakers out of the playoffs in four games.

The Lakers greatest postseason advantage was supposed to be their size, but Bynum's immaturity and Gasol's lack of heart has turned it into a weakness.

There are no teams in the playoffs who have a front line as big and talented as Gasol and Bynum, and it's a shame that neither player has the passion to utilize it.

If Bynum's knees hold up, I can forgive his indiscretions because he is only 24 years old, and while he may be talented, Bynum is still confined by the restraints of youth.

But Gasol may be one of the most skilled big men I have ever seen roam a court, and his tendency to shrink in the face of pressure is confounding.

Gasol has been through the battles and earned his stripes, but can they be snatched away on the strength of his postseason performances the last two years?

Gasol definitely has the game of a superstar, and he would probably win any skills challenge that involves power forwards, but it's time that he proved it when the games really matter.

The superstar label is earned, not given, and Gasol needs to show he still deserves it.