With the lofty expectations in Los Angeles, there are no moral victories or points for making the playoffs or winning a first round series -- fans in Southern California expect a title run each and every year. Pau Gasol has been an easy target for fans and analysts following a lackluster performance in the 2012 playoffs, where he averaged just 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in 11 games, not to mention a critical turnover late in Game 4 against the Thunder that cost the Lakers the game.
Obviously, there's room for improvement in the postseason, but is moving Gasol really the answer to improving this roster quickly?
With rumors swirling that the Lakers are shopping the 7-footer prior to the 2012 NBA Draft, it seems inevitable that he will be moved at some point. Here are five reasons why the Lakers should consider keeping him next season and perhaps beyond:
The Lakers Won't Get Equal Value in Return
If the Lakers trade away one of the best big men in the NBA, there's little chance to get equal value for him right away. If the team acquires a draft pick, it will take time for that to develop into a tangible contributor.
Though his production has diminished and he missed the All-Star game for the first time since 2009 last season, he is still one of the primary reasons the Lakers have been as good as they have since he joined the team in 2008.
Time Heals All Wounds
The Chris Paul trade that never was hurt the Lakers in a number of ways, but it was personally damaging to the mindset of Pau Gasol, who was going to be part of that deal. This doesn't necessarily mean that he's an overly-sensitive player who can't handle the business aspect of basketball -- quite the contrary.
To ask any player to play with a clear head every night knowing that they are their team's top trade chip while trying to fight through the heavy-hitting Western Conference is a lot to ask of any player.
Gasol handled it with class and professionalism, and to be a year removed from the debacle that involved the NBA-owned Hornets will allow for some normalcy throughout the regular season. More importantly, it will give the team a chance to retool around its core of star players and build more chemistry going into the playoffs..
With Gasol Gone, the Lakers Lose Continuity
It's easily forgotten that the 2011-2012 season was the Lakers' first under head coach Mike Brown. Because of their success running the triangle offense, it will take time, certainly more than a partial season, to embrace and adapt to a new style of play.
Without Gasol, the team will have to incorporate a new player into a relatively unfamiliar system. That adds another variable at a time when the Lakers need to add more weapons.
Gasol is Still a Top Power Forward
Though he will be 32 years old by the start of the 2012-2013 season, Gasol has a few years of production left. His style of play doesn't require a lot of athleticism to be effective. In spite of the postseason underachievement, he was still the third most efficient power forward in the NBA, with a PER of 22.7 in 77 games during the regular season.
Because of this, he is still a standout player in the NBA, and one of its best forwards. He has an unmatched set of skills and is highly intelligent. The Lakers would be wise to see how they can build around the Spaniard while he's still effective.
Getting Picks Back Will Force the Lakers to Rebuild
One of the reasons Gasol is the primary piece of any Lakers trade rumor is because he has good value. Because the NBA Draft is not an exact science, there are no guarantees that any rookie will become an All-Star, let alone contribute immediately, which is what the team needs given the makeup of the current roster.
Trading Gasol at this point would indicate a rebuilding phase for the team, and that's unacceptable in Los Angeles.
Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in Sports and covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He has written for Southern California's Press-Enterprise and Examiner.com. Follow him on Twitter for more insight.
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