COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most talented teams in the NBA, but one wouldn't know it by looking at their 20-26 record. In 7-footer Pau Gasol, they also have one of the best players in the world.
That too, would be hard to tell on the surface level, because the Spaniard has averaged just 12.3 points and 31.4 minutes per game over the last three contests, where he's been relegated to a reserve role and taken out of games late in crunch time.
Mike D'Antoni benched him in favor of Earl Clark earlier in January and hasn't looked back since. Given Gasol's distinguished resume -- four All-Star game appearances, an NBA Rookie of the Year award and two NBA championships -- something's got to change.
Here are five scenarios that could take place (in order of most to least likely):
1. Gasol gets traded
The hardest part about trading Gasol is that he's making $19 million this season and will make $19.285 million next year before his contract is up. That's a lot of salary for anyone to take on in this new climate of hefty luxury tax penalties.
However, it's the most likely scenario, because under-utilizing Gasol is a waste of the Lakers' money, and they don't have any to spare given their own perilous tax situation.
It's a shame to see it come to this, because the Lakers' length inside was always a strength, especially during their last two championship runs in 2009 and 2010. The other troubling aspect is that it will be difficult to get equal value back for him.
2. He finishes games again
Gasol sat out the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers' win vs. the New Orleans Hornets on January 29, and after the game, he voiced his displeasure. It's one thing not to start, which is something he should be doing, but entirely another to finish games.
Teams that have great sixth men regularly see them in at the end of games at the finish. A benching over the last 12 minutes demonstrates a major disconnect between player-coach and player-system.Though many reports are saying that Gasol is complaining about the matter, he has done nothing of the sort. In reality, he's gone to work without making any noise, and has only answered direct questions asked of him honestly and candidly.
3. The Lakers start winning -- in bunches
Winning cures all, and the Lakers don't have much success to help fix what ails them at this point in the season. The Gasol situation is a mess, but if the team starts to string together winning streaks, particularly on the road, then it's likely they could see the situation diffused for at least the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, the Lakers have to go 30-6 the remainder of the season to get to 50 wins, which would put likely them in the range of the sixth seed. They would need such positioning to potentially avoid the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
4. He becomes a starter again
There are two ways this scenario could happen, and both are unlikely. First, general manager Mitch Kupchak could step in, meet with D'Antoni, tell him that he needs to start Gasol, then have D'Antoni followthrough. That would take a perfect storm of unlikely events.
Secondly, D'Antoni could give him a second chance as a starter on a whim or change of heart, which is another far-fetched notion. Circumstances such as injuries, poor production from Clark or another unforeseen circumstance could be the only way this happens.
The bottom line is that the Lakers are top-heavy, and given Gasol's salary, they can't afford to have that kind of money sitting on the bench.
5. A system or coaching change takes place
The last and most unlikely way for Gasol to get back to his All-Star form is two fold: A change in D'Antoni's approach or the Lakers go crazy and make a second coaching change inside of one season. With the team still paying Mike Brown $11 million and D'Antoni just beginning a 3-year, $12 million deal, the Lakers would be on the hook to ousted coaches for $22 million. That's not happening.
But a system change could happen if D'Anotni got desperate or had a change of heart. Here are some numbers to digest that indicate just how much playing in a more perimete-based offense has affected Gasol's production:
This season Gasol is averaging 4.7 field goal attempts per game inside of six feet. In last his three All-Star seasons in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, he averaged 6.6, 6.9 and 7.1 attempts under the same criteria.That fundamentally means that Gasol isn't as effective when he's playing away from the basket like he has been this season.
Again, something has to change, and it's just a matter of exactly what it's going to be when it does.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as Southern California-based sports journalist. In addition to being an award-winning Yahoo! Contributor, he writes regularly for SB Nation and Examiner.com and is also the Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
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