Pau Gasol's Perfect Recipe For NBA Success? A Dash of Kobe Bryant

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJune 26, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Pau Gasol #16 celebrate a play against the Phoenix Suns in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Pau Gasol was an exceptional player during his time as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, but a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008 changed Gasol's fortunes and his destiny.

Gasol never received much credit for leading the Grizzlies to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, and his Rookie of the Year award in 2004 went largely unnoticed, but a desperation move by the Lakers would change all of that.

Andrew Bynum's knee injury in 2007 threatened to ruin the fragile chemistry Los Angeles was just beginning to establish, and what had been a promising season seemed to evaporate when the center went down.

Kobe Bryant's trade demands of the previous summer which had been quieted by Bynum's emergence threatened to re-surface, and the tenuous grip the Lakers had on first place in the West was threatened.

Lakers' general manager Mitch Kupchak clearly understood the urgency of the moment, and his move to bring Gasol into the fold changed the course of the Los Angeles franchise.

Most of the people around the NBA were enraged by the deal, and considering the primary piece from the Lakers was Kwame Brown, they had every right to be.

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But some of the outrage could have stemmed from the fact that Gasol seemed to fit perfectly with the Lakers, and he was just the type of player that Bryant had been seeking as a side-kick.

Bryant was still the most feared player in the NBA after Shaquille O'Neal departed Los Angeles, but without a dominant figure in the paint the Lakers held no real menace as a team.

Enter Gasol, who was just as skilled, if not more than O'Neal in the paint, and he had none of the personality or ego issues which had strained Bryant and O'Neal's relationship.

More importantly, where O'Neal prospered based on his size and brute strength, Gasol was more of a cerebral player which made him a natural complement to a heady player like Bryant.

Bryant and Gasol formed an instant bond, but the real reason their chemistry grew was because of the passive nature of Gasol and his willingness to accept criticism from Bryant.

O'Neal laughed when Bryant questioned his work ethic and his dedication, but Gasol made it a point to schedule his own workouts with Bryant, and he was eager to soak up all the wisdom that Bryant had to offer.

The success of their union has become a part of Lakers' lore as Los Angeles has appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals since Gasol's arrival, and won two consecutive championships.

It very well could have been three consecutive championships if not for the Lakers humbling at the hands of the Boston Celtics in 2008, but the blue-print for the Lakers' current success was found in that loss.

Gasol was able to witness first hand the drive and determination of Bryant, who realized the main reason the Lakers were humiliated by the Celtics was because of a lack of physical play.

Instead of Bryant placing blame on Gasol, when all the world was a witness to the manner in which he was handled by the Celtics' big men, he challenged Gasol to improve in that category.

Gasol will never be confused with a NBA bruiser, but prior to 2008 his lack of a physical style of play had been masked by the diversity of his talent.

But Gasol's toughness was now perceived as a weakness for the Lakers, and even though he played well against Dwight Howard in the 2009 Finals, the label of him being a soft player stuck.

This year's Finals afforded Gasol a rare opportunity to erase his demons from 2008 against the very same Celtics team who had become a point of reference when dissecting Gasol's game.

It didn't matter much that Gasol had probably been the Lakers' MVP for much of the 2010 NBA postseason because his performance against the Celtics would validate his and the Lakers' season.

The series was epic, but there was Gasol in Game Five being pushed around by Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis, and virtually disappearing in the same manner he did in 2008.

But there was Bryant once again, issuing a challenge to his teammates in general and Gasol in particular, to step their games up and play up to the potential of their talent.

Bryant understood the series was slipping away from the Lakers, and he also knew that a motivated Gasol was imperative to any chances Los Angeles had of hoisting championship banner number 16.

It's safe to say Gasol received the message, and with the contest on the line in Game Seven, he and Ron Artest proved to be the most important components of the Lakers' victory.

With his second championship Gasol has started on the path to greatness, and he has to be included in any conversation about the best big men in the NBA.

For those of you who tend to question Bryant's merits as the leader of his team, look no further than Gasol as an example because Bryant's constant prodding may be the reason Gasol has evolved from a good NBA player to a great one.