Los Angeles Lakers: Pau Gasol
Six and a half years ago the Lakers -- off to a hot start to the 2007-08 season but treading water after Andrew Bynum went down with a season-ending knee injury -- swooped in like a burglar in the night and found themselves a shiny new pivot man from Memphis.
And then, on Saturday afternoon, smack dab in the middle of the World Cup consolation game, Gasol announced that the Chicago Bulls had landed his services and thus won the biggest consolation prize in this summer’s NBA free agency. He might not be LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls aren’t thinking that Gasol can do for them what he did for the Lakers a half-dozen years ago.
It was a sad day for Lakers fans, and not just because they came to the sobering reality that Kobe Bryant is now the lone remaining member of the 2010 championship team still on the squad.
For a guy who was nearly traded so many times over the past several years -- starting with the deal that David Stern undid that would have sent him to Houston in a three-team swap for Chris Paul, ending with the transaction that L.A. backed away from in February that would have saved the franchise untold millions by sending Gasol to Cleveland, and including potential trades for Amare Stoudemire, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Kevin Love and others sprinkled in between -- it was hard to call the news surprising.
Gasol’s departure seemed inevitable for quite some time now. Yet it didn’t diminish the effect the news had on people when Gasol made his announcement.
Marko Yrjovuori, the Lakers’ sports massage therapist, posted a photo of him and Gasol -- both of them wearing big, goofy grins -- to his Facebook account with the caption: “Thank You for the Good times Pau!”
Paul Nankivell, who worked for the Lakers’ video department for years before joining their new television partner in Time Warner Cable SportsNet, also shared his appreciation on Facebook:
“Because of him, I got the chance to ride in parades, wear championship rings, and get champagne in my eyes after beating the Boston Celtics. But more importantly, I got to meet the kindest and most respectful NBA player I've ever come across. Good luck in Chicago Pau ... LA will miss you.”
Ty Nowell, the mind behind the Lakers’ web content on Lakers.com as well as the team’s active Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Instagram accounts, texted me when he heard the news: “Honestly, the guy changed my life. He made the Lakers the Lakers again at a formative stage in my career. Besides being a better human than the rest of us, I’ll always owe him that.”
The outpouring of support might not seem groundbreaking considering Gasol was in L.A. for quite some time and accomplished so much during his stay -- namely two rings and three trips to the Finals -- but trust me, I’ve seen plenty of players come and go from the Lakers. This kind of response is rare.
Gasol wasn’t just the guy leading the team with nightly double-doubles; when a staffer brought his wife or girlfriend or family to a game he was the guy who would say hello, engage in a conversation or pose for a photo.
For everything that Bryant’s tremendous talents and undeniable will brought to the organization, Bryant was never that guy.
The two worked well together, however. Bryant made Gasol a better player, pushing and prodding him to spend more time in “Black Swan” mode, utilizing his skill set along with Bryant's own to create an unguardable tandem when they were clicking -- remember Game 2 of the 2009 Finals?
Gasol made Bryant a better teammate, coming to L.A. on the heels of Bryant’s most dominant individual run of his career and reminding him that he can’t do it all alone, even if Bryant was one of only two men to ever score 80-plus points in a game.
It led to a deep appreciation between the two. Bryant wrote the foreword to Gasol’s book that came out last fall, “Life/Vida,” and penned, “If I could choose my brother,” it would be Gasol. This was after Bryant’s initial response to Dwight Howard spurning L.A. for the Houston Rockets, when he posted a photo of him with his arm wrapped around the big Spaniard with the hashtags #vamos, #juntos, #lakercorazon and #vino.
Bryant has been quiet about the Gasol news thus far. Maybe he’s like the rest of us and trying to figure out exactly how Pau should be remembered for his time in the purple and gold.
Remember him for one game? That’s easy. His 19 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals will forever be cemented into Laker Lore (and the sheer magnitude of that Game 7 performance will forever overshadow his equally impressive 17-point, 13-rebound, 9-assist, 3-block masterpiece in a must-win Game 6 two nights before).
Remember him for one stat? The one that always stands out to me is the fact that after the Lakers acquired Gasol in February 2008, they played their next 225 games (regular season and playoffs combined) before losing three in a row. He automatically raised their standard of play.
Remember him for one reputation-building series? How about when the Lakers swept the Nuggets out of the first round in Gasol’s first playoffs with the team in 2008? He averaged 22.3 points on 58.2 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.8 blocks in the four games after going 0-12 in the first dozen postseason games of his career with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Remember him for one moment? For me it was talking to him about being recognized by the league as J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner following a shootaround back in May 2012 and seeing tears well up in his eyes as he spoke about his charitable efforts supporting children in third-world countries with malnutrition and no access to proper education.
"Every time that I visited, it's been an experience that stayed with me," Gasol said. "You always meet a patient or several patients that are very inspirational or get into you in a way that's shocking. So, every time there's a child, there's a family, there's several of them that are obviously facing a very tough situation, a very tough time in their lives and you're just there to contribute a little bit, make their day, get a smile out of them, inject them some strength, some energy so they can hopefully have a better chance. As much as you can do, nothing is really little. That's why I encourage everyone in their means to have an impact on somebody else's life.”
I’ll cover players who make game-winning shots again. I’ll cover players who turn in nightly double-doubles. I might even cover players who bring a championship back to L.A. in the future. But I’m certain when I say that I’ll never again cover a player so in tune with what matters in life that he tears up in a lavish gymnasium when taking a second to ponder the plight of others who are less fortunate.
That’s the true measure of the man.
The truth is, as sports writers we’re not always afforded the proper time or space to make sure that context is never lost on the reader.
Back in December, I criticized Gasol for not playing because of an upper respiratory infection when the Lakers went out and lost to a lowly Philadelphia 76ers squad.
I took plenty of flak for the piece, with readers chiming in and calling it a “hatchet job” and questioning my motives. Looking back at it, I stand by what I wrote -- Gasol could have played and he didn’t, and that’s not what guys like him get paid millions for -- but I suppose some context was lost in it all.
Gasol had been a true pro for years despite having his name twisting in the trade winds and seeing the Lakers hire coaches post-Phil Jackson who didn’t put him in situations in which he could truly succeed.
Everyone has the right to be fed up once in a while.
He tried to become re-engaged as the season wore on. Bryant revealed that Gasol was so mad after a loss to an 11-32 Orlando Magic team in January that he threw his shoes in the locker room during a postgame tirade.
The following month, after a 20-point loss to Indiana, Gasol said, "I don't think there's a lot of discipline right now.” Without naming names, he called out both coach Mike D’Antoni for not cracking down on selfish play and the freshly acquired Kent Bazemore for ignoring team play on a wild 8-for-19 shooting night.
You see, all of Gasol’s worldly interests don’t diminish his love for the game of basketball. But they do frame how he wants to see the game played.
Just as he strives to enrich the community around him, he seeks a basketball environment that is built on teamwork, sacrifice and pulling for the common good. Not one that purposely lessens the role of one player to appease the ego of another (as D’Antoni admitted to me that the Lakers did to Gasol when Howard was around). And not one that allows individual agendas to run amok as soon as wins become hard to come by.
He’s hoping he can get back to that in Chicago, joining a basketball purist in Tom Thibodeau and a roster, headlined by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, that has something to prove.
Gasol wrote a blog post on his personal website on Saturday explaining his decision. Unlike James, who was celebrated for going the personal essay route and ticked off the names of guys like Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao whom he would be playing with, Gasol didn’t mention any Bulls by name.
“While I take a new step in my career in the NBA, I have high hopes of playing with the Chicago Bulls and become an active person in the community of Chicago,” Gasol wrote, translating his Spanish words into English.
With Gasol, you know that those hopes are more like a promise.
The Lakers never really got a chance for a proper farewell with Gasol. He missed 12 of the final 13 games last season dealing with a bizarre bout of vertigo. There was no sentimental send-off at Staples Center after he played his last game, just merely Gasol, in street clothes, sticking around to sign autographs for fans following the home finale.
Little did anyone know it at the time, but the last game Gasol and Bryant would end up playing together as teammates was back on Dec. 17 in Memphis, a game in which Bryant fractured his left knee, ending his season prematurely.
Gasol scored 21 points, Bryant scored 21 points. Gasol played 33 minutes, Bryant played 33 minutes. Gasol had nine rebounds and three blocks, Bryant had four assists and a clutch 3-pointer down the stretch. L.A. ended up on top 96-92.
Gasol and Bryant finished as winners together.
How do you properly remember Gasol’s time in L.A.? Remember that.
The Lakers still hadn't heard any official word from Anthony on Friday, according to a league source, when they pulled the trigger on a trade with the Houston Rockets to acquire Lin and Houston's 2015 first-round pick in exchange for cash considerations and the rights to an undisclosed player stashed overseas.
There's no denying that the last we saw of him on the court, Lin struggled. Lin shot just 21.7 percent on 3-pointers in Houston's first-round playoff loss to Portland and was particularly ineffective early in the series, scoring five points on 1-for-5 shooting in Game 2 and four points on 1-for-6 shooting in Game 4 as the Rockets fell behind 3-1 before eventually losing in six games.
But that rough series, combined with the Rockets' preference for Patrick Beverly at the point, ended up clouding the player that Lin really is today.
The fact is, he's a better player than when he was setting the world on fire during that streak with the Knicks. Lin may have averaged fewer points (12.5 compared to 14.6) and assists (4.1 compared to 6.2) last season than he did when he was in New York, but he's more efficient (35.8 percent from 3, up from 32.0 percent, while his attempts have gone from 2.1 to 3.2 per game), more reliable (82.3 percent from the foul line, up from 79.8) and also more in control (2.5 turnovers per game, down from 3.6).
At 6 feet 3, 200 pounds, Lin is a bigger point guard than most think, which perhaps has something to do with his durability. Lin played in 71 games last season and all 82 games the season before that. Having a stable point guard would certainly be a welcome addition for the Lakers after Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all missed so many games because of injuries in the last two seasons.
It was a solid Plan A. Or it technically still is a solid Plan A until James and Anthony officially inform the Lakers they have plans to the contrary. And even if James should choose to head back to Cleveland or stay in Miami or go elsewhere, and even if Anthony opts to stay in New York or entertain one of the other offers out there from Chicago, Houston or Dallas instead, it's a strategy that Bryant fully supports.
Of course, if the Lakers don't land their top targets this summer, they have a contingency plan in place.
The philosophy behind the Lakers' Plan B is twofold: find a way to be competitive next season to get back on track after a disastrous 27-55 campaign in 2013-14 yet at the same time, protect their cap space flexibility to be able to pursue the biggest names in the summers of 2015 (Kevin Love), 2016 (Kevin Durant) and 2017 (Russell Westbrook).
"It's a good class, but in terms of today who might be at the very top, maybe it's not as large as it might be next year or the year after," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on draft night when asked about the free-agency market this summer. "And keeping that in mind, we structured our salary knowing that, hey, you might not get two or three guys, but we have enough room to get at least one. And if we don't have one and we choose to, we can go down the road and have flexibility next year and the year after that."
The Lakers' desire to maintain a star-based system is pretty understandable. When you are in one of the media capitals of the world and are charging $3,000 per courtside seat, there needs to be a draw on the court to expect those prices. When you are being paid upward of $200 million per season from your regional sports network television partner, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, there's a certain obligation to have not only a competitive team, but compelling characters to get people to want to tune in and watch.
The specific machinations of the Lakers' Plan B remain a mystery, however. There are many different directions in which they can head, depending on how other pieces fall into place around the league.
"We have several options," Bryant said. "Obviously depending on the timing of this process, it affects some of those. You have a plan that's flexible, but you have a Plan A and a Plan B. But some of the Plan B is affected by the timing of Plan A. So, you just kind of plan it out and wait and see what happens and respond from there."
Here's a look at several ways L.A. could end up responding if it loses out on its top choice:
The way Gasol's season came to a premature end thanks to a bizarre bout of vertigo, it seemed as if his time in L.A. would finish with a whimper after 7½ seasons. Gasol posted on his personal website in February that, "My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations." Meaning, he wants to win. But how much money is he willing to sacrifice to do so? If the Lakers don't end up using max money on Anthony, they could try offering Gasol a big-money, short-term, two-year deal that coincides with the end of Bryant's contract. Think $10 million-$12 million range and even give Gasol a player option for the second year allowing him to skip town for greener pastures should he not feel as if the Lakers were heading in the right direction.
Not only would this allow Gasol to stay in the city he loves for its culture and community -- he has several charities in Los Angeles with which he is very involved -- but it would also keep him from having to suddenly uproot his life at 34 and settle someplace else. Not to mention, just like Gasol is being used as a potential selling point to try to bring in Anthony this summer, he'd be an intriguing potential teammate for the other big names that the Lakers go after in the coming years.
Yes, Oklahoma City and San Antonio -- two of the handful of teams vying for Gasol -- are much more equipped to win right now, but they can offer him far less money. Same goes for Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks. Putting Gasol alongside a healthy Bryant and a promising rookie in Julius Randle next season would not only get the Lakers back on track in the short term, but could help them get one of those other stars they covet in the future.
But what is to follow?
The Lakers, like several other teams around the league with major cap space and daring dreams (Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Cleveland, etc.), are putting everything else on hold while they go big-game hunting.
When the James and Anthony dominoes eventual fall where they may, however, there will be other smaller pieces to fill, especially for a team like L.A., which has only six players penciled in for roster spots next season in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Kendall Marshall and rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
As much as the Lakers have centered their initial focus on those big-ticket players, general manager Mitch Kupchak has been sure to cast a wide net to let a host of players know that he would potentially like to see them wearing purple and gold next season.
This included Kupchak's reaching out to representatives to every single one of the players who were on the roster last season and are currently free agents, save for MarShon Brooks, who will play for the Sacramento Kings' summer league team, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Some of those players have greater interest around the league than others, of course.
Kent Bazemore appears to be the most popular of the group. The 25-year-old swingman has also already been contacted by Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, Phoenix and San Antonio. The Celtics' initial contact included a personal call from coach Brad Stevens to Bazemore. He will sit down with representatives from both the Celtics and the Spurs next week, if not more teams. Helping his cause, no doubt, is the fact that his right foot is fully healed from the surgery he underwent in April to repair a torn tendon and he will be ready for full-contact drills by the end of July, according to a league source.
Jordan Hill was also on the minds of plenty of teams, with Boston, Dallas and Houston all inquiring about the big man coming off a season in which he averaged career highs in points (9.7) and rebounds (7.4) per game despite playing only 20.8 minutes a game in Mike D'Antoni's system that didn't necessarily fit his skill set.
Nick Young heard from Atlanta along with the Lakers, as well as "several other teams registering interest," according to his agent, Mark Bartelstein.
For others, they are still waiting to see what the market bears. Chris Kaman will wait to see which teams need a backup center once they spend their big dollars on starters. Jordan Farmar has already prioritized staying in L.A., but if the Lakers feel they're set with three point guards in Nash, Marshall and Clarkson already, maybe he gets a look from his former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, who is now manning the sidelines in Cleveland. Wesley Johnson, still searching to fully establish himself in the league after showing some bright spots last season, will search for the team with the greatest opportunity for playing time so he can continue that development. Xavier Henry, still recovering from left wrist and right knee surgeries from back in April, will have an on-court workout to prove himself with the Lakers once he's recovered, according to a league source, before he will look elsewhere.
And those are just the free agents who were actually on the team last season.
Don't forget that Kupchak has been canvassing the remaining free agents around the league -- both restricted and unrestricted -- as he awaits the chance to obtain Anthony and others.
While it might seem that it has been a relatively quiet start to free agency for the normally splashy Lake Show, there has been a lot going on beneath the surface.
Pau Gasol and Mike D'Antoni were far from a perfect fit. Will Gasol play under the next coach?
Season recap: Coming into the season, for the first time since his Memphis Grizzlies days, there was nothing holding Gasol back. He was healthy and rested after undergoing non-invasive procedures on both knees during the summer. There was no Dwight Howard in the way pushing him out to the perimeter. There was no Kobe Bryant on the court limiting his touches. Mitch Kupchak and Mike D’Antoni said they were hopeful Gasol would return to All-Star form heading into the season. It didn’t take long for that hope to dissipate. The big man came out of the gates slowly, shooting just 43 percent from the field in November and 46 percent in December. He found his rhythm in January (20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game on 51 percent shooting), but by then the Lakers were already out of the hunt.
Brooklyn Nets in November, Gasol passed Detlef Schrempf as the second-highest scorer in NBA history by a European player. His monster line of 23 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks in a win over the Utah Jazz in January also is worth mentioning.
Season lowlight: A blanket statement would mention his porous rim protection that often nullified his offensive prowess. In terms of an actual moment, however, it would have to be his bizarre bout with vertigo that caused him to miss 12 out of the final 13 games for the Lakers.
Final grade: C+
Notes: The dynamic between Gasol and D’Antoni continued to be an uncomfortable partnership for much of the season. While the two veterans were professional enough to find some sort of common ground, it was obvious that neither was the perfect fit for the other. Beyond D’Antoni, some of the equity Gasol built up over three NBA Finals runs and two championship seasons started to erode. There were murmurs about Gasol’s desire throughout the season and, as the seventh highest-paid player in the league, the 13-year veteran did not deliver on all of the expectations placed upon him.
Quotable: "The last few years I always kept on my mind that this could be my last day here, so let me try to enjoy it. That's kind of been my mindset quite often the last couple years. This could be my last day, maybe, there's a chance. But I try not to think about it. Whatever happens, it's going to work out for the best. I'm very privileged and I've had an amazing career until this point. I want to continue to build on my career and prolong it as long as I can at a high level." -- Gasol said at his exit interview.
What's next? Has Gasol played his last game as a Laker? It sure seems that way. Months ago, Gasol wrote a blog post on his personal website stating his top priority at this point in his career is finding a situation in which he can contend for another championship. That does not seem to be possible in L.A., at least in the immediate future. There is a chance the Lakers will offer him a lucrative one-year deal -- say in the $8 million to $10 million range -- with the plan of keeping as much cap space available for the summer of 2015 as possible. At that point, depending on which max-level free agents the Lakers could convince to join them, perhaps Gasol would be interested in signing another extension at a lower rate to finish out his days with Bryant and the Lakers.
LOS ANGELES -- It only felt like the Los Angeles Lakers' season ended a long time ago. Sunday it finally did for the home crowd, anyway.
The team has two more meaningless games to play against Utah and San Antonio. But the curtain on the worst season since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles came down with a whimper Sunday night in a lethargic 102-90 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
It was the Lakers' final home game of the season and about the only bright spots on the night were the rousing national anthem performed by die-hard Lakers fan and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar player Flea, and the sight of future lottery pick Joel Embiid sitting courtside across from the Lakers' bench. Both stayed until the bitter end of the game along with many Lakers fans, perhaps not quite ready to let this awful season go.
Those who stayed until the end gave two-time champion Pau Gasol a nice ovation late in the fourth quarter of what could’ve been his last appearance as a Laker. Gasol, who will be a free agent this summer, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with vertigo.
How it happened: The Lakers kept things close in the first half but gave up 34 points in the third quarter to fall irrevocably behind. Memphis had to win Sunday to keep its pole position over the Phoenix Suns in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and it played like it.
What it means: The Grizzlies head to Phoenix on Monday with a chance to clinch a playoff berth. The Lakers head out on the road to Utah and San Antonio to play out the string. Only the race with Boston, Utah and Sacramento for the fourth-worst record still matters for LA.
Hits: Nick Young and Jodie Meeks have been the Lakers' steadiest performers this season, and they were again in the last look many fans will give to this team. Young finished with 14 points off the bench while Meeks had 20. Wes Johnson (15 points, 15 rebounds) and Jordan Hill (10 points, 10 rebounds) each had a double-double.
Misses: Gasol was in attendance Sunday and will travel with the team on its final two-game road trip, but he could have already played his final game for the Lakers if he leaves as a free agent.
Stat of the game: The Grizzlies outrebound most teams they play with burly Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph controlling the paint, but even so, you don’t often see margins like they put up Sunday. Memphis outrebounded the Lakers 52-32.
Up next: The Lakers close the season out on the road against Utah on Monday night and San Antonio on Wednesday. The Grizzlies head to Phoenix Monday and Dallas on Wednesday to settle the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The were performed by Dr. Steve Shin (wrist) and Dr. Steve Lombardo (knee), both at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.
The Lakers announced Henry is expected to make a full recovery by the beginning of training camp, but the question is which team's training camp will he be reporting to?
Henry, 23, is one of 11 players on the Lakers roster set to become a free agent this summer.
The four-year veteran averaged career highs in points (10.0), rebounds (2.7), assists (1.2), steals (1.0) and minutes (21.1) per game while also shooting a career-best 41.7 percent from the field in 43 games (making five starts).
Kent Bazemore, who has already been ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn tendon in his right foot, is next in line for surgery. Bazemore will visit Stanford University's Dr. Kenneth Hunt on Monday and is expected to have his foot operated on sometime next week. Bazemore is also on an expiring contract, however the Lakers can sign him to a $1.1 million qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent.
Bazemore and Henry are turning the page to next season, not just through medical attention, but also by both of them already undergoing their exit interviews with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Kobe Bryant is the other player on the Lakers' roster to have his season end prematurely because of injury (left knee fracture). Bryant will have his exit interview with Kupchak at a later date and will not address the media next week when the rest of the team goes through their exit interviews Thursday and Friday, according to a team spokesman.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters at Friday's shootaround in advance of L.A.'s game against the Golden State Warriors that Pau Gasol (vertigo symptoms) could very well join those three players as another guy to have his season cut short because of an injury. Gasol was ruled out for the Warriors game. He previously told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it would be "unlikely" he plays another game this season. The Lakers have three games remaining after Friday -- home against Memphis on Sunday, followed by road games at Utah on Monday and at San Antonio on Wednesday.
Steve Nash (hamstring) and Chris Kaman (right calf strain) are also out against Golden State.
Not only will the team be missing Kobe Bryant, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore -- all of whom had their seasons shut down prematurely because of injuries -- Steve Nash (hamstring), Pau Gasol (vertigo) and Chris Kaman (right calf strain) are all unlikely to play against the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
Nash, who said he was "probably" finished for the season after feeling a "bite" in his hamstring in the Lakers' 145-130 loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, has shown signs of improvement.
"Steve said he feels a lot better," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after practice Thursday. "I would say doubtful for tomorrow, but maybe for the rest of the year."
The Lakers have three games remaining after Friday -- their final home game Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies, followed by road games Monday in Utah and Wednesday in San Antonio.
Pau Gasol, who told ESPNLosAngeles.com after the Rockets game he was "unlikely" to play again this season, worked out at the practice facility Thursday, and has not been officially ruled out yet.
"He'll play if he can, but he has to be medically cleared," D'Antoni said of Gasol, who has missed seven of the last eight games.
Meanwhile, Kaman has missed the Lakers' last four games after saying he "landed funny" after going airborne in the first half of the Lakers' 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on April 1.
"I've never really had an injury like this," Kaman said. "I've rolled my ankle and messed my back up, but the calf strain is kind of a weird thing. I'm trying to push myself a little bit, hopefully I can try to play in the last two games. We'll see. I don't know if that's possible or not."
Gasol said he was still undergoing therapy, including an exercise where he rapidly circles his neck to intentionally make himself dizzy to train his body to be able to return to a stable state. He is being re-evaluated on a daily basis by the team’s medical personnel.
Two of the four final games are at home -- Friday against the Golden State Warriors and Sunday against Gasol's brother Marc and the Memphis Grizzlies. Even if he does not suit up, the Staples Center crowd is sure to give Pau Gasol a warm ovation on Sunday to thank the veteran big man for his contributions to three straight NBA Finals runs and two championships after being acquired at the trade deadline in 2008.
If Gasol is unable to play before the season ends, he could have very well played his last game in a Lakers uniform. The 33-year-old is set to become a free agent this summer and made it clear that his top priority is signing with a team capable of competing for a championship. The Lakers (25-53) are in the midst of the worst season in franchise history and the process of rebuilding, with 11 of their 15 players (including Gasol) on expiring contracts.
Gasol has averaged 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 blocks in 60 games played this season.
Chris Kaman stars in rout of the Suns:
He came to the Lakers as a former All-Star who could provide depth behind the oft-injured Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill in the front court, or maybe even play alongside them. He became buried on Mike D'Antoni's bench, considered redundant alongside Gasol on offense and lacking when it came to defense as compared to Hill or Robert Sacre. Yet, after 10 straight DNP-CDs to start the month of March, Kaman had his number called when Gasol went down with a bout of vertigo and boy did he deliver. Kaman pumped in 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, helping the Lakers to a rare win that was even sweeter coming against a team like the Phoenix Suns, who were fighting for a chance to make the playoffs.
Nick Young goes off for 40 against the Trail Blazers:
There hasn't been much that has been enjoyable about this Lakers season, but Young routinely has kept the entertainment value at the highest level it could be all things considered. "Swaggy P" provided some more must-see TV against Portland, starting the game off 8-for-8 and finishing 15-for-26 as he ended up with 40 points (with only one assist, of course). Even though L.A. lost 124-112 to the Blazers, Young -- playing on a fractured knee no less -- provided enough highlights to make the game worth watching.
Kent Bazemore resumes starting role:
After D'Antoni abandoned the experiment of putting Wesley Johnson as the starting stretch 4 when Johnson's energy level waned, the coach went back to the team's surprising trade deadline acquisition in Bazemore with the first five. While he still has plenty of learning to do -- his foul at the end of the Kings game after missing a layup was unnecessary and could have cost L.A. a win -- he also clearly has plenty of game. In his last five games, he's averaging 15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
McCallum, Gay and Cousins scorch depleted Lakers in Sactown:
That ill-advised foul by Bazemore mentioned above was on Kings rookie Ray McCallum, who abused the Lakers' defense to set a career high of 27 points on 12-for-22 shooting. He wasn't the only Sacramento player to scorch L.A. Rudy Gay scored 31 points. DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Lakers, meanwhile, had only nine healthy players and shot 38.5 percent from the field as a team.
L.A. gives up a season-high 143 points to the Timberwolves:
Maybe it's because before the game happened the Lakers had already had 14 games where they surrendered 120 points or more this season (including five games of 130 or more) that when Minnesota hung 143 on L.A. it didn't seem like as big of a deal as it really was. The Lakers have had their bad luck this season, but there's no excuse for the abhorrent defensive effort they put forth against the Wolves. Minnesota shot a franchise-best 67.1 percent from the field and scored 41 points in the first quarter after L.A. came into the game supposedly stressing first-quarter defense because the Wolves had already torched the Lakers for 47 in an opening frame earlier in the season.
It's with that mutual backdrop and a shared sarcastic sense of humor that D'Antoni offered up a zinger when asked about Nash's status last week.
All jokes aside, the only thing Lakers fans care about when it comes to Nash at this point is what his status will be year to year moving forward.
As in, if Nash is not waived by the Lakers via the stretch provision during the offseason (an unlikely possibility, based on the team wanting full cap flexibility for 2015) and the 40-year-old chooses not to retire (another remote scenario, considering Nash’s intention to collect the $9.7 million owed to him in the final year of his contract), what kind of player will he be in 2014-15?
Less than a month ago, it seemed as if Nash's season already was over. This, in turn, led many fans to call for Nash's career to be over, as well. Now, after his game against Portland and a pretty clean outing against Minnesota last week, is it fair to make the same assumption that he should call it quits?
Nash played for the 13th time in Game No. 74 of the Lakers' season Tuesday, and while his night wasn't perfect -- he rolled his ankle in the first half and had to retreat to the locker room for treatment -- he ended up with his first double-double of the season, finishing with 10 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and only one turnover (and a block on Portland's Mo Williams, to boot).
"The key for me is if I'm moving well, I know I can play the game at a high level and I felt good tonight," Nash said after the game, speaking to reporters with an electric stimulation machine hooked up to his ankle. "If I'm moving well, good things I think can happen out there."
The performance drew rave reviews from the rest of his team.
"When he's healthy, he's a heck of a point guard and makes great plays and makes things easy for everybody else," Pau Gasol said.
LOS ANGELES -- Nick Young did his best to keep the Los Angeles Lakers' "Player-Haters Ball" going for another night.
But it turns out the purple and gold's spoiler party was short-lived.
Young started the game 8-for-8 from the field and finished with a season-high 40 points, but the Lakers were unable to replicate the beating they gave the surging Phoenix Suns on Sunday or the tough time they gave the Trail Blazers a couple of weeks ago in Portland.
While Young did his part on his own, going 15-for-26 overall, it was no match for Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge (31 points, 15 rebounds, six assists) and Damian Lillard (34 points, eight assists), who made the Lakers pay from both inside and out.
How it happened: The Lakers trailed by as many as nine in the first quarter but pulled to within two, 63-61 at the half. It was a different story after intermission as the Blazers built an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and led by as many as 23 in the final period en route to a runaway victory.
What it means: So much for the power of that Pau Gasol-Chris Kaman starting lineup that Lakers fans have been clamoring for. Both Gasol (4-for-9, nine points) and Kaman (6-for-16, 12 points) looked out of sync offensively. Meanwhile, for all of that size, the Lakers were outscored 44-34 in the paint and the Lakers' twin towers combined for only 10 rebounds as L.A. was also beaten on the boards 50-45.
Hits: Steve Nash had 10 points and 10 assists off the bench.
Kent Bazemore scored 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
Misses: Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill were casualties of the rotation, both collecting DNP-CDs.
Meyers Leonard was called for a flagrant foul 2 for knocking Kendall Marshall to the floor with 36.9 seconds left. The good news is Young and Ryan Kelly immediately came to Marshall's defense.
Stat of the game: 33-2. That's how many different starting lineups the Lakers have used this season compared to the Blazers. In related news, Portland has nearly twice as many wins as L.A. does this season (49 to 25).
Up next: The Lakers travel to Sacramento for the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday. The Kings (26-48) are nearly as bad as L.A. is (25-49).
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after shootaround Tuesday morning he will play Pau Gasol, returning from a four-game absence because of vertigo, and Chris Kaman, coming off a 28-point, 17-rebound, 6-assist performance, together in the starting lineup.
D’Antoni had been reluctant to play the two together in the past this season, believing that the skill sets of the two 7-footers overlapped one another. The coach also expressed the desire to develop younger big men Robert Sacre, Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly rather than play Kaman major minutes and also often preferred to play either Kelly or Wesley Johnson at the stretch 4 position with the first unit.
D’Antoni explained his change of heart.
“Well, Chris played really well,” D’Antoni said, crediting Kaman’s efforts in the Lakers’ 115-99 win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. “It’s something else to look at. But it’s going to affect other people. We’ve had this discussion. Somebody is going to pay for it (with reduced playing time). So, we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. We’re going to play two bigs and then we’re going to play Ryan and space the floor. We’ll see what works to close the game out and see what happens.”
Gasol, who lobbied for more of that lineup throughout the season, seemed satisfied with the move Tuesday.
“Let’s see how it works,” said Gasol, who admitted he was not 100 percent over his bout with vertigo. “We got to communicate to see how we’ll not be on top of each other so the spacing is still right and then just compete, utilize our size to protect the paint and hopefully control the boards. I think that will be a big plus for us.”
It was a mixed bag of results when Kaman and Gasol appeared in the starting lineup together this year. They looked good together in the preseason, but that was cut short when Kaman came down with food poisoning on the team’s trip to China and lost his starting spot to Shawne Williams.
D’Antoni went back to the pair not long after, however.
They started together in the Lakers’ 99-98 win in Houston on Nov. 7. It was a great team win for L.A. against Dwight Howard and the Rockets, but Gasol and Kaman combined for eight points on 4-for-15 shooting, 22 rebounds and seven turnovers.
They also started together in the Lakers’ 113-90 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10. It was one of L.A.’s worst losses of the season, as they allowed the Wolves to score 47 points in the first quarter. Also, Gasol and Kaman’s combined numbers were underwhelming as they went for 19 points on 9-for-22 shooting, 16 rebounds and seven turnovers.
“It wasn’t the greatest,” D’Antoni said. “I mean, it’s OK. The way Chris is playing right now and the way Pau is playing better, it probably makes sense. Earlier, when one out of the two wasn’t playing real well (it didn’t make sense). And we wanted to go smaller.”
The Lakers won four of their next six games after D’Antoni went away from the Gasol-Kaman combination following the Minnesota loss to bring their record to 10-9 and the coach never went back to it. Until Tuesday, that is.
“You get a sense of how you want to play and you get a sense of what looks good,” D’Antoni said. “It gave a sense that we were better with Shawne Williams back then spreading the floor and playing an uptempo game and up until the injuries, I thought our record showed it. Then when the injuries hit, I don’t care who we were playing, without a point guard it was going to be tough to win.”
Where was also a fundamental deficiency of the Gasol-Kaman pairing that didn’t sit well with D’Antoni.
“Your speed as a team is a lot lower and it doesn’t bode well in today’s game to be slow on the floor,” D’Antoni said. “So, that’s the thinking.”
Guards on the mend
Steve Nash, who sat out the Suns game because of nerve root irritation, is considered probable for Tuesday. Xavier Henry, who missed the Lakers last two games after aggravating his sore right knee against Milwaukee is also considered probable against the Blazers.
Jordan Farmar, who has been out the last seven games with a strained right groin, visited Dr. Luga Podesta on Monday and was cleared to play, according to the Lakers. Farmar plans to use this week to ramp up his conditioning and could be back in the lineup next Tuesday when the Lakers host the Houston Rockets.
Nash told reporters last week he hopes to play as much as he can before Farmar returns, because once Farmar is back in the mix, it will probably eat up the playing time available for the former two-time MVP.
“He understands the situation,” D’Antoni said of Nash. “Because Steve is a smart guy, he understands what we’re trying to do and he buys in and it makes it nice.”
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Could Chris Kaman go from putting up 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists on Sunday to finding himself out of the rotation on Tuesday when the Lakers host the Portland Trail Blazers?
Kaman's breakout game in L.A.'s 115-99 rout of the Phoenix Suns came with Pau Gasol sidelined. Gasol, finally starting to recover from the symptoms stemming from his bout of vertigo that kept him out the last four games, is considered probable to play against the Blazers.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has said repeatedly that he feels like Gasol and Kaman have overlapping skill sets and only likes to play one of them at a time.
But with that type of game out of Kaman, doesn't the coach have to reconsider that premise and play the two big men together regardless?
"I don’t know, I was going to ask you guys to give me scenarios that I’d be able to play them," D'Antoni said after practice Monday. "You have five guys for two positions and 96 minutes, so you’ve got to figure out how to split the minutes up. It’s hard to play when you only play four or five minutes, so we’ve got to figure that out."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kobe Bryant has been active on social media lately, sending out a series of tweets in the last several days about his new sports drink business venture and clarifying his stance on the controversial Trayvon Martin case.
However, nowhere to be found in the flurry of tweets was any mention of the Lakers, or basketball, for that matter. Until Friday night, that is.
This is game is hard to watch— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 29, 2014
The Los Angeles Lakers were in the midst of being completely dominated by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and there was Bryant -- who did not attend the trip as he continues to rehabilitate his fractured left knee that shut down his season after only six games played -- checking in from afar.
It had been nearly three weeks since Bryant had made mention of the Lakers on his timeline. Not surprisingly, that tweet also was inspired by a poor effort -- the Lakers' 48-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on March 6, accounting for the largest margin of defeat in franchise history.
There was certainly more misery in Minnesota on Friday. And the only motivation seemingly left for this group is the fact that there's only 10 games left before the season ends.
How it happened: This one was over before it started. After dropping 47 points in the first quarter against the Lakers at Staples Center in November, Minnesota "only" scored 41 in the opening frame Friday, building a 17-point lead. The Wolves outscored L.A. 33-19 in the second quarter to take a 31-point lead into intermission. The Wolves cruised from there.
What it means: After L.A. dropped consecutive games to the worst team in the league in Milwaukee, then were embarrassed by Minnesota, that blowout win against the Knicks has proved to be a major aberration rather than a sign of improvement down the stretch.
Hits: Kent Bazemore, starting in place of Wesley Johnson, led L.A. with 21 points.
Robert Sacre had 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Steve Nash returned after sitting out three games because of nerve discomfort in his back and right hamstring to put up four points and six assists in 14 minutes.
Misses: The Wolves set a franchise record for shooting percentage in a game, connecting on 67.1 percent of their shots and eclipsing their previous mark of 64.2 percent.
The 143 points were a new season worst allowed for the Lakers and a franchise-best mark for the Wolves.
Stat of the game: 60-30. The Wolves doubled up on the Lakers with 4:45 remaining in the second quarter and would go on to push their lead up to as many as 41 in the fourth.
Up next: Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said "there's a chance" Pau Gasol could return to the lineup Sunday, when the Lakers host the surging Phoenix Suns (winners of five in a row). Gasol has missed the last three games because of vertigo symptoms. L.A. will have the day off Saturday, coming off the back-to-back.