Into the unknown for Pau Gasol
Whatever happens, it's clear he immersed himself in the reality of Lakers lore
When it was over for Gasol -- after Kobe Bryant had squeezed his shoulders in appreciation once Gasol was on the bench, after another unnecessary timeout was called and the Lakers' benchwarmers-turned-starters huddled near center court -- he sat alone at the end of the bench with his head down and clapped his hands together.
Was that his "this is it" moment? His admission to himself that life as a Laker was fun while it lasted, but with a $19.3 million expiring contract and knowing full well his team still has the amnesty clause available to them, that he'd just donned the purple and gold for the last time?
"It was more like frustration, disappointment to finish off this way," Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com after making his way through the bowels of Staples Center, stopping along the way to say goodbye to arena employees -- maybe for the summer, maybe for much longer than that.
"I know the circumstances were totally against us, but still it hurts," he said. "It hurts me to lose like this. It hurts to lose back-to-back games at home like that, regardless of the scenario, conditions, adversity.
"It was just hard for me as a Laker, and as a competitor and as a winner, to not be able to do more or be more successful."
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Being traded from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Lakers made Gasol a champion. It lifted him from being remembered like the Grizzlies' best franchise player before him, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, as a very good player on a middling team, to a great player on a great team.
To Gasol, the Lakers' lore is real.
While Dwight Howard seemingly has struggled to grasp what it means to be the next in the line of great big men following George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, Gasol got it from the get-go, helping the Lakers to three NBA Finals appearances and two rings in his first two-and-a-half seasons.
When asked about the crowd's ovation for him during his postgame news conference, Gasol teared up.
"I am very appreciative and thankful for our fans and the support they show and their loyalty and their appreciation that they have for me," Gasol said.
As Gasol decompresses from the season, his immediate plans include getting together with someone else who has showed loyalty to him: Phil Jackson.
"We text, we e-mail and we've gotten together once [since D'Antoni was hired] also," Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "So, we have good communication, good friendship, and hopefully I'll see him in the next few days, too."
Gasol said he had "certain desires that [Jackson] would be chosen," after Brown was fired, but he knows that Jackson coming back to the Lakers at this point is as much of a long shot as him staying with them.
"I would like to be a part of another championship team here, but it is not totally up to me," Gasol said.
"We could definitely get it done [if the roster stayed intact], but I would be pretty surprised if there was no changes whatsoever. I would be surprised if that happens."
Gasol came out the day before Game 4 and offered up to reporters that he plans to undergo some kind of procedure this summer to repair the tendonitis in both of his knees, perhaps even traveling to Germany for medical help like Bryant did.
It was an interesting move by Gasol, perhaps an intentional move to lower his market value and make it harder for the Lakers to trade him, thus helping him stay in L.A. in a roundabout way.
When healthy and featured the optimal way, the 32-year-old Gasol could have a lot more to offer. Just ask the 37-year-old Tim Duncan.
"He's as skilled as there are big men out there," Duncan said. "He can do just about everything and he's unselfish. I see him playing the way he's asked to be played. I think if he's asked to be more of a scorer or to be something else, he can do that, as well.
"I don't see why he doesn't have many years left in him."
It's up for debate who finally asked Gasol to start playing again like the guy who won those championships. Bryant said he told Gasol to "go to the block and not move." Eventually, D'Antoni accepted it, either out of necessity because so many players were injured for L.A. or not.
"He's arguably, we could talk best center in the league," D'Antoni said of Gasol after Game 4. "Skill wise, for sure."
And Gasol is sure that he doesn't want to see those skills go to waste next season, whether he's in L.A. or not.
"I'd like to [be featured again], I really do," Gasol said. "Because it's frustrating for me for most of the year to be in a position where I can't provide everything that I can as a player. So, you try to do what it takes and then do what you're asked for, but it's just difficult." "It was difficult for me, so, it's something that I'm also aware I'm getting older and at some point my role will have to adjust," he said. "But if I'm healthy, I know I can do so much and hopefully it will be here. But, who knows?
"I definitely want to be in a situation where I can maximize my abilities and help the team the most that I can, and devote completely to it."