COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers would likely not have their last two championship banners if it weren't for Pau Gasol, but he's still the player with the most to prove among his teammates in 2013-14. It would be negligent not to honorably mention Kobe Bryant and his need to show whether or not he can return to form after a devastating injury, but even if he were to retire before playing another minute, he would still go down as arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
So back to the matter at hand. Why would a two-time Olympic medalist, NBA champion and four-time All-Star need to show anyone that he's still one of the best big men in the league?
The answer is complex and begs further exploration. Though he had a career-low in points per game (13.4) and field goal percentage (47 percent) in 2012-13, the Spaniard has a diverse set of skills that can fit into any offense. But last season, he struggled to find any comfort within Mike D'Antoni's system. Those numbers were a product of Dwight Howard occupying space inside and Gasol being forced to get the majority of offensive touches well outside his comfort zone. He effectively became a stretch four when he'd been a center, or at least a more traditional power forward.
What's worse is that he found himself out of the rotation late in several games. D'Antoni even went as far as benching Gasol in the fourth quarter of a November 23, 2012, contest, a 106-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The coach's reasoning was as shocking as it was candid when asked why.
"I was thinking I'd like to win this game," he told reporters after the game. "That's the reason."
Gasol struggled with just six points on 3 of 8 shooting that night. D'Antoni went on to say in that same postgame interview that running the floor was a must, and that if players couldn't adapt, they'd be replaced.
A pro's pro
Amid trade rumors, the Dwight Howard saga and continued problems in an ever-changing system, Gasol remained the consummate professional through it all. Now that he's slated to make roughly $19 million this upcoming season, he's likely seen his final days in Los Angeles at 33 years old.
What he has left to prove isn't so much about the Lakers as it is the rest of the NBA. The Lakers are unwavering in their stance that D'Antoni is the coach to lead them into the future, and that means that paying Gasol what he's worth to remain in Los Angeles almost certainly won't be an option. Another team could benefit a great deal from his skill set.
But he still has to show that last season was an anomaly and that he can play be an All-Star caliber player again. With D'Antoni showing some flexibility toward the end of last season and better understanding Gasol's skill set, he should be capable of handling that task.
'Vino' part two?
If he remains healthy after dealing with shoulder issues and plantar fasciitis last season, Gasol has the kind of skill set that would allow him to be productive as he moves into his mid-to-late 30s. Much like Tim Duncan, he has enough length where athleticism isn't a key factor in his ability to defend in the post, and he has the shot-making ability in and around the restricted area to convert without overpowering or out-jumping his opponents. Because of those factors, it stands to reason that he has several good years ahead of him.
That's all good news for both he and the Lakers because they'll get sound production out of him as he moves to his more natural position at center and will get more touches in the paint without Howard in the picture. Gasol will benefit financially. He can earn himself a lot of money with a productive season as he's effectively auditioning for his next and likely final big contract.
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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 managing editor and founder of Sports Out West.
Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
- Sports & Recreation
- Pau Gasol
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Dwight Howard