COMMENTARY | As the Los Angeles Lakers face a myriad of questions heading into the offseason, one major area that needs to be addressed is in the middle with the likes of big men Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
Before the 2012-13 season started, everyone from the media to fans gushed about prospects of pairing two perennial All-Stars in the frontcourt when the Lakers acquired Howard and what that meant in terms of championship implications.
What transpired over the course of the regular season and the playoffs was not the dream scenario that the purple-and-gold faithful were hoping for.
Things got off to a bad start from the onset with the dismissal of Mike Brown after a 1-4 start. Howard was banged up, new head coach Mike D'Antoni was running a system that rendered the Spaniard virtually ineffective.
Los Angeles continued to struggle on both ends of the floor, particularly on the defensive end, where they owned a distinct advantage over opponents due to their length. Howard managed to block 2.4 shots a game and lead the league in rebounding despite not being fully healthy.
Gasol, meanwhile had to endure a demeaning benching back in January, all but guaranteeing that the Lakers would move him.
Now, moving forward, there is a big question as to whether or not the pair can play together. While it's true that Gasol is the Lakers' most tradable asset, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Lakers can't get equal value for him in return, especially considering his recent knee surgery and subsequent three-month timetable for recovery.
The Lakers need to get younger and more athletic, and those players tend to be fairly expensive. What that means is that those clamoring for a Gasol trade that fixes the roster in one fell swoop may be out of luck. If anyone can do it, it's Mitch the Magnificent, but it's a very tall order, even for the Lakers' brass.
Let's say that year two of the Lakers' original plan that involves Nash and Howard joining forces with Bryant and Gasol happens as anticipated. The latter part of the season showed considerable progress and could be a positive indicator of some hope on the horizon. L.A. was 25-11 from February onward, and much of that run was due to the steady improvement of Howard's health. Though Bryant is a huge question mark, the bigs showed they can carry the load.
Gasol missed a key stretch of that run dealing with plantar fascia, but the lineup of Howard, Gasol, Bryant, Blake and World Peace proved capable all season long as they were +5.2 in field goals made in 123 minutes on the floor together.
As a pair, Howard and Gasol didn't fare as well together and were -3.3 in 993 minutes against opponents field goals. That's misleading due to fact that the majority of that time was early in the season with system adjustments still in the works and an ailing Howard.
But then, some encouraging things happened.
In the Lakers' string of five wins to end the season, the pair proved to be brilliant together. During that stretch, Gasol averaged 19 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per contest. Howard, playing alongside him in the starting rotation, strung together 21.8, 11.6 and 2.6. That's the kind of production that could vault the Lakers into the elite category when all of the other players are healthy.
D'Antoni adjusted and embraced the Lakers' strength, which is length inside and having two of the best big men in the league at his disposal. In the championship seasons of 2009 and 2010, Phil Jackson was able to get the most out of Gasol and Andrew Bynum to impose their will on opponents.
The notion that Howard and Gasol can't play together is absurd, and no one with any real basketball I.Q. bought that, even when D'Antoni tried to sell it early on. It took an adjustment this season to make it work, but now, with a full training camp, there should be no excuses and plenty of time for the players to find an identity.
But it behooves the Lakers to keep Gasol and Howard together (assuming Howard re-signs), because they've shown what they can do when coached properly. The 2012-13 season was an anomaly for many reasons as I wrote a short while ago, but in 2013-14, perhaps some normalcy and continuity will put the Lakers in the mix to make noise in the playoffs.
It doesn't make sense to reinvent the wheel after one season -- the Lakers already tried that last year. How'd that work out?
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Founder and Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
Statistics via Basketball-reference.com.
- Sports & Recreation
- Dwight Howard
- Pau Gasol
- the Lakers