Last week, the Los Angeles Lakers suffered a massive blow to their playoffs chances with the injury of Pau Gasol. Although the immediate effects of Gasol’s injury weaken the Lakers, the Spaniard’s absence may well be the best hope the Lakers have to save this season.
The Lakers have lost two of three games since Gasol was injured, and the most obvious effects of the Gasol-less Lakers are a drop in rebounding and a noticeable void in the Lakers’ offensive ball movement.
Prior to the injury, Gasol was viewed as the most expendable piece on the Lakers.
The Spaniard was constantly linked with trade rumors over the past two seasons, and he was actually traded for Chris Paul in a deal David Stern ultimately vetoed in an over-reach of executive power.
This season, Gasol felt disrespected by Coach Mike D’Antoni, who moved the 7-footer to the bench and even sat the two-time champion at the end of close games.
The disrespect was so great that Gasol told the Los Angeles Times he would possibly request a trade over the summer if things did not change.
Well, things did change.
Gasol got hurt, and the Lakers realized how integral he was to everything they wanted to do on both ends of the floor.
The Gasol injury, however, did not doom the season. It actually made this season more relevant than ever.
Despite what Lakers management may have publicly stated, many people expected Gasol to be traded at the upcoming Feb. 21 trade deadline. After the injury, Gasol became more likely to stay in Los Angeles due to diminished trade value caused by the injury.
That translates to the Lakers only having one shot with this roster of four superstars—assuming the Lakers don’t just trade Gasol at the deadline anyway or force Gasol to stay next season.
Apart from constantly missing Gasol’s presence, the Lakers also have 6-8 weeks to see what Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash can do. If the Lakers have any chance of making the playoffs, all three superstars need to start playing like...um, superstars.
That means Kobe and Dwight need to do whatever it takes to win together. The public back-and-forth between the two has been exhausting, but if the Lakers want to stay in the race for the playoffs, both guys need to start playing for each other on the court.
If those two can be successful over the next two months, Howard becomes more likely to re-sign with Los Angeles. As an added bonus, the Lakers get a long look at what the D’Antoni, Nash, Bryant, and Howard combination offers for next season, should they decide to move Gasol over the summer.
Gasol’s injury made this team more reliant on Howard, and that is a good thing for Howard, this season, and the future of the franchise.
Also, if the Lakers are still in the hunt when Gasol returns from injury, his talents should be welcomed and utilized by the coaching staff and the players.
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone?” Joni Mitchell never lied.
By the time the playoffs come about, Gasol should be back and integrated. Then, the super team can make one full sprint at a championship.
However, Bryant and Howard's two-month reaction to Gasol's injury may decide the next decade of the Lakers' franchise.