This was no easy season for Pau Gasol, between the weight carried from a poor 2011 postseason, being traded/untraded for Chris Paul, hearing his name swirl around the rumor mill like a Hollywood Starlet in the pages of US Weekly, and a new role that didn't play to his strengths in a compressed season that offered little time to practice out the kinks. His streak of three consecutive All-Star bids came to an end, replaced instead by a streak of public comments from Kobe Bryant cajoling him to be more aggressive.
Beyond receiving the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, Gasol's reasons to smile were limited this season. And the rediscovery of a toothy grin may come while donning a different uniform. Even before Mitch Kupchak acknowledged later in the afternoon a shakeup could be coming, Gasol's demeanor and body language wasn't that of someone banking on a return next season. He was the odd man out of this year's system -- and a pricey one at that -- which could lead to being out altogether. For the time being, however, he remains in his customary state: Limbo.
"I wish I could have clarification, but they can't give it to me right now," said Gasol. "I think management still has talk to ownership to see what direction this thing will be going next year... If they knew it would be good to know obviously, but I understand. We just finished playing two days ago, things don't work that easily. I wont really worry too much about it. It's something I've been through already this year, so if something does happen, it does and if it doesn't I'll be happy to be back next training camp ready to go, and Hopefully have much more peaceful year, and just focus on our goal, which will be to try to win another championship."
Besides, as Gasol noted, he, Mike Brown and Mitch Kupchak didn't spend nearly as much time talking about the future as the recent past. The pow wow lasted about an hour, which is very long by exit interview meeting standards. But considering the chaos of Pau's season, it's not surprising extra time would be required to hash out matters. Unlike the airing of grievances that accompany Festivus, Pau didn't present the sitdown as heated or hostile. His recounting of events came with the typical Gasol-ian politeness. But it's clear he got some things off his chest.
"I told them it was hard for me at times," shared Gasol. "I never had to search for offense or for looks in teams I've been on. They've always been, not given to me, but I always had them because of what I bring to table. So to have to go and search, I have struggled at points, at times with that. But obviously when you have certain players are also very good contributors on the offensive end, you have to make sure combine all those weapons, make them work at their best. And that takes a little bit of time, too.
"I always like to be aggressive and proactive, but I was still trying to adjust to the fact it was different. I wasn't getting the same things I was getting before. I'm not used to attacking from different positions on the court. Analyzing a little more made me think of it a little more. But I don't like excuses at all. It's just analyzing and seeing the fact and understanding why things happen a certain way."
Just before the Lakers were eliminated, I wrote about the disintegrating chemistry between Pau and Kobe Bryant, not too long ago the best guard-big man duo in the NBA for my money. This season, however, the two didn't work off each other to nearly the same degree, and never quite appeared in sync from where I was sitting. Gasol seconded that assessment.
"It was most of the regular season, in the fourth quarter we just went to a lot of isolation stuff with Kobe," recalled Gasol. "We haven't really worked on the pick-and-roll as much until the very end. Because again, things are more difficult in the postseason and you have to work for them a little more. So we probably didn't develop that kind of game enough for it to be smoother in the post-season. But we communicated well and everything. It just wasn't as smooth."
The same could be said about everything with Gasol this season. It just wasn't as smooth.
At times, the blame fell legitimately on Pau's shoulders. Opportunities to put the ball on the floor were periodically bypassed in favor of a lower percentage jump shot, or even a pass in an effort to honor his facilitating duties. Gasol is someone inherently inclined to follow a game plan to the letter, and this instinct sometimes led to games with missed chances for a bigger impact. But that doesn't change the fact Gasol shifted into a role not tailored to his strengths. It's like taking a talented actor with a very contemporary style and casting him in a period piece. There may be some good scenes scattered about the film, but at the end of the day, it just feels like the wrong vehicle for this particular performer.
As Brian recently noted, the time may have arrived where a separation is mutually best for both parties. Even while praising El Spaniard's professionalism to the high heavens, Kupchak acknowledged it could be tough for Pau to feel the same trust in the front office before "basketball reasons" became part of the NBA lexicon. But even if the brass has a sincere change of heart about an $18,000,000 third option -- or just can't flip him for a better piece(s) -- unless Brown can figure out a better way to use him, Gasol will remain underutilized in a fuzzy role. The team nor Pau will be served well, and you'd hate to see Pau devolve even further from the glory seasons as a Laker. Sometimes relationships just run their course.
And if that's the case, you just wish things could have gone out on the high note everyone involved deserved.
More to come later, I'm sure...
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