COMMENTARY | As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Shaquille O'Neal being shipped out of town, the Los Angeles Lakers still find themselves with instability and frustration out of the center position.
For the eight years he played for the Lakers, Shaq was one of the best players in the history of the NBA, let alone Los Angeles. Since he left, the position has been a roller-coaster ride operated by the likes of Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard.
This year is no exception. With Pau Gasol returning to his natural position of center, hopes were high that he would recover from last year's disappointing performance and reestablish himself as an All-Star player.
However, that just hasn't been the case as he has come up very short of those expectations. At this point, Gasol is probably the one player that's been the most frustrating to both sides of the "Should the Los Angeles Lakers tank the season?" argument. And the main problem is consistency.
He started the season recovering from knee surgeries (yes, plural), and it seems like every week he's had some kind of ailment that's been throwing him off. As a result, he started with one of the worst 10-game stretches in his career and since then he's been better, but he just can't seem to put it all together for more than a few games at a time.
He's managed to raise his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) from below average at around 14 to almost 18. It's still not quite the range that made him an All-Star, and it's definitely not worth $18 million a year.
However, in January alone he's averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks per game. Now that's a valuable player. He almost single-handedly beat the Utah Jazz -- admittedly a dubious achievement.
The Lakers are clearly headed for a lottery pick this season -- and it just happens to be the one year's draft pick they didn't trade away. And, truthfully, it's really not the worst thing if the team misses the playoffs for the fifth time in team history.
So, Pau presents a problem. If he keeps improving, he's going to help the team win games that don't matter particularly and also hurts its chances for a top five pick in the draft.
But being consistently very good is also going to raise his trade value -- even though Pau's contract size makes that somewhat difficult. And he really could be a huge addition to teams like the Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets or Portland Trail Blazers.
The Lakers as an organization are a mess and all signs point toward the team struggling for at least another year or so -- even if everything breaks the right way with the draft and free agency.
A trade could get them one more piece to help them down the road -- not to mention the financial savings of moving Pau's hefty contract and its luxury taxes.
So, the team should probably trade him.
The key to Pau's recent success has been increased shots per game and field-goal percentage resulting from more offensive rebounds. He's actually looked like a valuable NBA player. He's getting older, but the center position is always a thin position and the Pau of the last couple weeks looks like a top-five guy.
So, maybe the team shouldn't trade him.
See? It's quite a dilemma. The trade deadline isn't for another month or so and that gives the team some time to figure out what to do with Pau. If he regresses and starts playing terribly again, the choice is easy since no other team would trade for him.
But if he keeps up his excellent play, the team will be forced to decide whether to trade him for an asset or keep him with the team to provide it with some amount of certainty from a position that has lacked it for almost a decade.
Either way, Pau's performance goes, the only certainty for the team is that it will keep losing games. And that's not really a bad thing.
Jed Rigney is a Los Angeles-based award-winning filmmaker who also fancies himself a sportswriter. You can find him on Twitter @JedRigney.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Pau Gasol
- Los Angeles