August 31, 2011
Like most of the Lakers, Pau Gasol(notes) had a pretty unimpressive playoffs. In 10 games against the Hornets and Mavs, he averaged 13.1 ppg on just 42 percent shooting from the field. Worse yet, he seemed to be playing with little fire and determination. For a player who was deemed one of the two or three best big men in the league during the 2010 playoffs, it was a notable fall from grace.
This summer, Gasol is part of the stacked Spain squad at the European Championships. Winning the tournament would help his reputation, even if EuroBasket isn't the biggest stage in America. Still, Gasol isn't putting too much pressure on himself to perform well as a way of atoning for his playoff failures. From Ben Bolch for the Los Angeles Times (via PBT):
In the playoffs last spring Gasol and the Lakers were run ragged by Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers power forward was also besieged by unsubstantiated rumors of a rift with his girlfriend, and was the subject of finger-pointing by fans disappointed with his play, and a jab to the chest by coach Phil Jackson during the Western Conference semifinal sweep.
"I do not think there's anything to prove on my side," Gasol said via email when asked if he was eager to put the Lakers' postseason behind him. "Last season we didn't perform during the playoffs as we were supposed to. . . . You cannot win every year; there are a lot of very good teams in the league."
The typical American sports narrative is that a disgraced player should come back from disappointment with a fanatical devotion to improve his game and make himself more impressive in the eyes of the sporting public. Gasol, to his credit, is taking a more measured approach.
Just one year before his postseason troubles, Gasol helped dominate the paint on the way to back-to-back championships. He has by all standard metrics established himself as a top-shelf player. And while he doesn't always play to his best, his partnership with Lamar Odom(notes) and Andrew Bynum(notes) still gives the Lakers the most impressive frontline in the NBA. Plus, Gasol is a player who looks best when he's comfortable and knows his role. Would it really be in his best interest to beat himself up about his failures? Not every player responds to that kind of pressure in a positive way.
Gasol is not a perfect player and the Lakers are in a transitional period. But he's still very obviously an asset to the team and one of the best international players in the league. Whether Spain wins this tournament or not, his legacy is sealed. Treating every event in his career as if it's a defining moment is a path to confusion and unnecessary anger.