- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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PHOENIX -- After a frustrating 102-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday in a game where the Los Angeles Lakers trailed by as many as 27 points before dropping the game and their road record to a paltry 5-11, the elephant that's been lingering in the team's locker room ever since the vetoed Chris Paul trade was finally addressed by Kobe Bryant.
Either trade Pau Gasol, or don't, Bryant said. But make a decision either way and make it fast.
"Basketball is such an emotional game, you got to be able to have all of yourself in the game and invested in the game. We didn't have that," Bryant said after Gasol had 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Suns. "Pau, it's hard for Pau because of all this trade talk and all this other stuff, it's hard for him to kind of invest himself completely or immerse himself completely into games when he's hearing trade talk every other day. I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him."
Bryant made it clear that he prefers that the Lakers choose to not trade Gasol, the four-time All-Star with whom Bryant paired to win consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010.
"I talked to [Gasol] a little bit about it," Bryant said. "It's just tough for a player to give his all when you don't know if you're going to be here tomorrow. I'd rather them not trade him at all. If they're going to do something, I wish they would just [expletive] do it. If they're not going to do it, come out and say you're not going to do it. This way he can be comfortable, he can go out, he can play and he can invest all of himself into the game."
Just as Bryant wants Gasol to remain in L.A., Gasol said he wants to remain a Laker.
"So, we got March 15th, the [trade] deadline," Gasol said as he made his way to the team bus after the game when reporters caught up to him to pass along Bryant's remarks. "That's what I'm thinking [about]. Hopefully we get to that day [without a trade]. Obviously if something was told to me before, it would be good, but I'm not trying to force things. I'm not trying to force a team, 'If they want to trade me, trade me tomorrow.' Because obviously I still believe in our team, I believe in our city and I believe that we can continue to be a special, special team and a successful team."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told SI.com over the weekend that a major move involving the Lakers' roster was unlikely.
"Of course we'll talk to a lot of teams [about trades], like everybody else does, leading up until the trade deadline to see if there is a way to improve the team," Kupchak said in the SI.com report. "But the likelihood is that this is the team that's going to finish into the playoffs. That's just the way it normally works, but we'll see."
However, Kupchak has not had any direct conversations with Gasol about the power forward's future with the franchise since the two spoke on the first day of training camp in the aftermath of the failed three-team deal that would have sent Gasol to the Houston Rockets in order to acquire Paul from the New Orleans Hornets.
"No. Nothing," Gasol said when asked if he has had a meeting with Kupchak regarding the continued trade speculation. "I've seen him after games in the locker room. That's about it, but we haven't really spoken about anything."
Gasol was then asked by a reporter if he planned to initiate a conversation with Kupchak when the team returns to Los Angles on Monday to play the Portland Trail Blazers.
"I don't know if I should be approaching him, because obviously there's a lot of rumors. There's a lot of talks and teams seem to continue to make offers and [the Lakers are] listening, otherwise those offers wouldn't be out there," Gasol said. "It seems like there is a team almost every other day that is putting something together, which is flattering and I'm glad there are teams out there who would love to have me on their roster, because they believe in the player that I am, but at the same time, it's frustrating because if I own a player or a player plays for my team and I say, 'Look, I'm not interested in listening to anything because I value my player and I want to keep him here,' then all that stops. But, it seems that it's not that way. That's the feeling I get and I haven't really confirmed it, but from the situation and all of the talks, that's what I perceive."
Lakers coach Mike Brown said that Gasol hasn't been able to avoid the rumors that have linked Gasol in trade scenarios with Houston, Boston, Minnesota, Orlando and Chicago in recent weeks.
"He was on his computer [Saturday] when we landed and he was looking through some articles and all that," Brown told ESPNLosAngeles.com after the team's shootaround Sunday. "I just leaned over and said, 'Pau, you got to stop looking at that crap. It will kill you if you do.' It's out of his control. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. Nobody knows, except for the people upstairs and ownership. ... To worry about it, to try to do anything about it, it's wasted energy."
Coming into Sunday, the 11-year veteran was averaging just 16.6 points on 49.5 percent shooting compared with the 18.8 points on 52.9 percent shooting he averaged last season, but Brown insists Gasol's on-court performance is not linked to any off-court speculation.
"What he shoots from the field and all that [has nothing to do with the trade rumors]," Brown said. "Pau can play. That has nothing to do with any of the rumors out there. Rumors are going to happen all the time. There's rumors about every guy on this team in one way, shape or form. We just got to as a team, as individuals, we got to ignore the noise."
Bryant told reporters Friday, "It's important for [Gasol] to know we support him," but was much more vocal on Sunday.
"I'm sure we'll make some tweaks here and there, but the foundation obviously starts with myself and Pau and the emergence of Andrew [Bynum]," Bryant said. "But you can't have one of our pillars not knowing if he's going to be here or not. Do something. One way or another, do something.
"... If they trade him, at least you have some type of closure. At least he gets some closure. I'd rather them not trade him, but if they're going to do it, [expletive] do it already. If you're not going to do it, come out and say you're not going to do it."
The Lakers have started the season 18-13 despite the tumult surrounding Gasol's status and Bryant clearly appreciated how Gasol has handled himself thus far.
"He's been the consummate professional," Bryant said. "He's going out, he's trying to do what he can, but let's be real. If you didn't know you were going to be here tomorrow, if your head's on the chopping block, you feel like you're just waiting. It's tough to put all of yourself into the game.
"You just want security, a little clarity. I think that would help him out a lot."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Kobe Bryant upset at Lakers over Pau Gasol trade situation.