Spain forward/center and NBA All-Star Pau Gasol might be working as a decided underdog in the men's basketball tourney in this summer's Olympic run, but that hasn't stopped the versatile big man from putting together an offseason regimen that has the two-time NBA champion and Spanish team mainstay from thinking rather highly of himself. Higher than the big fella's already-impressive frame, and high enough that notoriously tough Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant has taken notice. From Reuters:
Bryant said the 7-foot (2.13m), 32-year-old Gasol looked stronger, absorbing contact and pushing back in an impressive display that boded well for future Lakers' success.
"I'm a beast," Gasol told Reuters. "Yeah, I feel pretty good. I feel strong."
Yeah, you're a beast, Pau. About damn time.
[ Realted: Kevin Love takes candid pics on Team USA plane ]
Gasol has always been a beast in international play, and for the most part acted mostly beastly during his celebrated time with the Lakers. The 2011-12 season, however, was a different and nastier beast — one that was at times too tough to watch.
Pau struggled during the regular season as he adapted to new coach Mike Brown's Bryant-centric offense, with his turnovers spiking in comparison to his last year under former coach Phil Jackson in 2010-11. And the playoffs, for the second consecutive season, were the biggest worry. Gasol played a frustrated brand of basketball that mixed uneasiness with at-times soft play that angered even his most ardent admirers.
Bryant likes to count himself as one of those admirers, which is nice of him, but he's also the biggest reason Gasol was left as an afterthought in the Laker offense.
While we'd like to chide the versatile 7-footer for hesitant work in the low post and baseline, you can't help but notice that his attempts at making the offensive possession his own dwindled in a Kobe-centric offense — Gasol's usage rate (the percentage of his team's possessions that ended in Gasol making a play that ended with a tangible box score-related play such as a shot attempt, assist, turnover, or trip to the line) dipped significantly in both the 2011 and 2012 postseason in comparison to his regular-season work.
[ Photos: Team USA beats Spain in exhibition ]
Strength training really wasn't going to do much about Gasol's plight, because it's not as if he was getting pushed out of the post while calling for the ball as the Lakers dribbled away. Imagery, though, and reputation? That's another thing altogether.
In NBA terms, a strong international showing this year could change quite a bit between Bryant and Gasol. Kobe was seen constantly griping on court at his teammate during both the 2011 and 2012 postseason, as if it was Gasol's fault Bryant's shots per game jumped up from 23 to 25 from the regular to postseason. Bryant appeared to have no patience in setting up Gasol as he ran variations of his team's old triangle offense from the low post, and Gasol was pitiful in attempting to play the role of a bit player who occasionally got a look. The lack of understanding between the two, while the Laker goofballs and kiddies ran roughshod around them, cost the team a chance at the Western Conference finals.
Beast-like Olympic play, though, could have Bryant stepping aside. It could foster a renewed sense of respect for his teammate that wasn't there during the last two Laker playoff runs, though we (clearly) have no idea why Bryant didn't enter the postseason with that respect already in place. It might be enough, even nine months from now, for Bryant to step aside while Steve Nash and Gasol call the shots in a more team-orientated Laker offense during the playoffs. Even the biggest Laker backers, with those flags flying from the side of their cars, know that a 9-13 playoff record (Los Angeles' mark over the last two years) is beneath a team as strong as this one.
This is why the beast has to live up to self-ascribed name, even if Gasol was speaking with tongue placed firmly in cheek. Spain might be a long shot to grab the gold, even if they are considered the ostensible No. 2 in Olympic play, but a beastly silver-medal showing could have ramifications that rumble far beyond this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
Like, say, in Oklahoma City in June.
See you then, beast.
Related Olympic video from the Yahoo! Sports network:
More Olympic coverage from the Yahoo! Sports network:
• Forde: Beijing Opening Ceremony set a lofty standard
• Ryan Lochte seen 'cozying up' to Aussie swimmer Blair Evans
• Olympic rings tattoo a badge of honor for swimmers