With the Los Angeles Lakers 9-2 heading into their matchup with the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night, Gasol wasn’t exactly an afterthought, but there wasn’t any urgency behind his return. But then the Lakers lost to the Hawks, Kobe Bryant and all.
Bryant has a severely sprained ankle and there is no definitive timetable behind his return to action. Of course, this is Kobe we’re talking about. He would play on one leg if he did had to, so the possibility remains that he won’t miss any time.
While half a Kobe is better than no Kobe, though, it’s hardly ideal, especially now. Los Angeles holds just a half-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff slot, and the last thing they need to cope with now is more injuries.
Dwight Howard is no stranger to carrying a team on his own, but the Western Conference isn’t the Eastern Conference. One superstar isn’t enough. Neither is two (Steve Nash). And it’s most certainly not enough when you have one of the most shallow benches in the league as the Lakers do (27th in points per game).
What the Lakers need is an additional offensive weapon, and someone who won’t render them as defensively vulnerable when Howard is on the bench. And so, I give you Pau.
Per Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, the big man is eyeing a return next week:
Pau Gasol’s immediate future as he continues to recover from torn plantar fascia in his foot is clearing up some as he’s eyeing a return to the court next week.
His long-term concerns, such as his future with the Los Angeles Lakers, remain a bit murky.
“I think it’s all going to be determined by team performance,” Gasol said in an interview Wednesday on ESPN Radio’s “Coach & Co.”
What the team’s state has “determined” now though, is that the Lakers need Gasol. Forget about next season, they need him now.
I liken Gasol to Amar’e Stoudemire’s case (prior to his most recent injury). Not in the sense that his contract is as bad, but that while the Lakers have played well without him, he has the potential to make them better.
Los Angeles runs the ball through the post more now, which should allow them to be more effective with both Gasol and Howard in the lineup. I’m not saying the former should start. I actually don’t think he should per se. With Earl Clark struggling, it is a possibility, but coming off the pine allows him to spend more time at the 5, where he’s posting a 23.2 PER.
More importantly, with Kobe banged up, Gasol arguably becomes Los Angeles’ best offensive option. Nash is a sweet shooter and can get into the paint, and Howard is deadly within nine feet of the basket, but Gasol can score from anywhere. No one wants to see him hoisting up threes, but he has a nice inside out game when the offense is run through him. Howard can’t provide that kind of relief and if Kobe’s limited in his mobility, Nash will need to become the primary playmaker once again.
Defensively, the Lakers also need Gasol’s size. They’re the NBA’s equivalent of sitting ducks when Howard is on the bench, and Gasol would at least give them a body to plug down low to protect the rim.
Even before Bryant’s injury, Los Angeles needed Gasol. Again, when used properly, he has the potential to make the Lakers better.
And the Lakers need to get “better.”
Now more than ever.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.