Originally Published: December 31, 2013

1. Once Indispensable, Pau Gasol Awaits Fate

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Let's start this with a flashback to simpler, happier times, like Walt and Jesse cooking in the RV again in the opening scene of Breaking Bad's climactic "Ozymandias" episode.

Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are sitting at a news conference table in the old Orlando Arena, NBA champions for the first time. Odom felt compelled to remind the media of how those two came to be Lakers in the first place.

"First of all, I got traded for Shaq," Odom said, "He got traded for Kwame Brown."

Pau Gasol
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesPau Gasol limbered up and matched his season high with 25 points in a loss to the Bucks.

They both laughed. It was impossible for Gasol to feel insulted when he, Odom, Kobe Bryant and everyone else knew that they wouldn't be champions without Gasol, regardless of how lopsided the trade with the Memphis Grizzlies appeared to be at the time. (History showed that the Grizzlies did well for themselves by also acquiring Marc Gasol in the deal).

Fade out. Fade in to Tuesday night.

Gasol is walking out of the Lakers locker room after his team lost a home game to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yeah, those Milwaukee Bucks. The team with the worst record in the NBA. This is the opposite end of the sports emotion spectrum from the euphoria Gasol felt after winning that first championship. His eyes are watery, his words have an added coating as he struggles through an upper-respiratory infection.

It's time to talk about trades, and this time there's absolutely nothing to laugh about.

Gasol could be on the move again, once more for a player whose greatest appeal is his expiring contract. Andrew Bynum's contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers is what some call a "super-expiring" contract, because it isn't fully guaranteed. The Lakers can acquire Bynum, waive him and get rid of the remaining half of his $12.5 million contract -- saving themselves $20 million including luxury tax expenditures in the process.

"It's not easy," Gasol said. "As much as I'm used to it after three years of several [years of potential trades], it's not easy."

He has his answers down to a routine, having been through this ever since he and Odom were included in the attempted trade for Chris Paul that was nixed by David Stern. This time feels different than the previous rounds of rumors that didn't go anywhere. Now Gasol is in the final year of his contract. The trade deadline is approaching next month, in addition to the deadline to waive Bynum before his contract becomes guaranteed next week.

This has been building since December. It felt like Bryant's contract extension was the online check-in for Gasol's trip out of Los Angeles. Bryant and the Lakers stressed that the widely criticized contract still left them with room to offer one maximum contract to a free agent next summer. Left unsaid was that would only be possible if Gasol didn't return.

"If something happens, so be it," Gasol said. "If it doesn't, I'll just try to do a better job of trying to help our team have the best chance possible.

"It's kind of out of my control. I'd like to continue to be here. It's been my home for the good and the bad and everything else. I can't control what ownership and the franchise want to do in moving forward. We're struggling right now, and that doesn't help."

The downturn in the Laker season makes a move feel necessary, even inevitable.

The notion of treading water until Kobe returns from the latest injury is gone like 2013. After six consecutive losses, the past two at home to a pair of the league's worst teams in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, the Lakers are officially submerged. They're 13-19 and 5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Things are getting worse, not better. Jordan Farmar's hamstring tightened up and he sat for most of the second half and he'll get another ultrasound exam tomorrow. Steve Nash said before the game that when he put up some shots the other day, his left leg still felt off. It's as if his nerves are communicating with the muscles in different languages. Steve Blake's still out with a torn elbow ligament and Xavier Henry is a week away from being re-evaluated for a knee bone bruise. Wesley Johnson was at home, sick.

As often as Bryant has piped up on Pau's behalf when the trade talks start swirling, the duo has not presented a convincing case on the court lately. They're moving in the wrong direction, having gone from the NBA Finals their first three seasons together to the second round the next two and a first-round departure last year.

So there's no incentive for the Lakers to place basketball over budgets. Apparently there's no sentimental feelings, either. It was telling that there was no organizational outcry about columns in ESPNLA.com and BleacherReport.com that called out Gasol for missing recent games with the illness. It's as if the Lakers don't want him to be missed when he's gone.

There's a cyclical nature to all of this. Gasol was brought to Los Angeles because the Lakers needed to replace an injured Bynum, who suffered the first of his many knee injuries in January of 2008. The Lakers believed that a star center could keep them in contention for a championship, and thus keep a frustrated Kobe Bryant in purple and gold. They were right. First came the championship, the next year came Kobe's contract re-up and all was well in Lakerland.

Now Bynum could be coming back to L.A. to replace Gasol ... on the spreadsheet more than the court.

"Those coincidences happen," Gasol said. "My brother was traded for me. That was kind of ironic. Life's going to have those ironic moments at times."

Gasol wasn't in much of a mood for thinking about life's whimsies. He had scored 25 points, but grabbed only six rebounds on a night the Lakers were pounded 51-39 on the boards. His missed free throws and a turnover helped finish off any semblance of a Lakers comeback attempt.

Near the end, Lakers fans chanted, "We want Phil", still yearning for a coaching ship that sailed long ago.

Fans don't chant for expiring contracts. These fans also didn't demand the Lakers keep Gasol. Maybe they should have. Even if it were just as unlikely to produce results as the Phil chants ... it would imply some deserved appreciation for the second-most important Laker of the past six years.

Dimes past: December 12 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 25 | 26 | 29 | 30

J.A. Adande | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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