I have been one of the few Pau Gasol supporters during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. I have defended him when many called him soft after the 2008-09 NBA Finals, I defended him after the lackluster finish to the 2011 playoffs and I supported him throughout the shortened 2011-12 season.
One of the things I will not defend is playing hurt. Gasol is playing hurt and its hurting the team at the moment. I still believe he can make serious contributions to the team, but only if he’s healthy enough to play at a high level.
In the NBA the regular season is a marathon not a sprint. If Gasol needs to take a week or two off to rest his knees, then he should do so. The Lakers have enough guys to take Gasol’s place for the short term. There is actually a lot of depth at the forward spot with Antwan Jamison, Jordan Hill and Earl Clark, so Gasol can get rest now and take care of those knees.
On both ends of the ball, Gasol hasn’t been able to perform what were used to seeing him do. On Sunday night, he got blocked on a dunk attempt by Glen Davis of the Orlando Magic. For those who aren’t familiar with Davis, he plays well below the rim and isn’t known for blocking shots. On defense, Gasol has been slow to rotate and recover for his teammates on defensive assignments. Both of those things are what usually take place when someone is slowed by knee issues.
A healthy Gasol can be huge for the Lakers because of his great skill set and complimentary style to both Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Gasol has been great for so many years for the Lakers and without him, there’s no championships in 2009 and 2010, but he was younger and healthier then.
Gasol has a lot of miles on his knees from the playoff wars over the last few years and he’s not the same player he once was, partly due to playing out of position and part of it is just age. At the end of the day, a healthy and active Gasol is better than most power forwards in the league, and that’s what it will take for the Lakers to be an elite team this year.