Below is the second in a series previewing the storylines surrounding each player on Lakers’ roster for the 2013-14 season.
1. Gasol should have a larger role Amid endless trade rumors and diminished responsibilities, Pau Gasol somehow has stayed on with the Lakers. Part of that hinged on Dwight Howard leaving for the Houston Rockets via free agency and the Lakers never finding a trading partner that could provide enough for Gasol’s value. No matter. Gasol should have a much better year than last season when he posted a career low in points (13.7) and shooting percentage (46.6 percent). That’s because Gasol primarily will operate in the post instead of remaining a facilitator and stretch forward. Such a role change will give Gasol more ownership and confidence he can restore his consistency that led to the Lakers winning two NBA championships in three consecutive Finals appearances.
2. How healthy will Pau Gasol become? The biggest variable surrounding Gasol’s success won’t surround what role he plays, however. It will mostly depend on how much he’s healed the tendonosis in both of his knees. Gasol underwent a procedure in May on his knees that involved removing scar tissue. Despite the Lakers’ estimation that he’d resume basketball activities in late July, Gasol didn’t progress to that stage until early September.
Of course, Gasol still has time to heal. A few weeks remain until training camp starts and the Lakers’ season opener begins Oct. 29 against the Clippers. But it’s possible Gasol doesn’t enter the season fully healthy. Should such a scenario unfold, Gasol’s injury could affect his conditioning and aggressiveness, two variables that would significantly hurt his chances in morphing back into the dominant post player he once was.
3. How will Gasol and Chris Kaman co-exist? Forget all the talk that Howard and Gasol couldn’t co-exist. Through seven games in April, the Lakers’ output from both Howard (21.6 points) and Gasol (17.6 points) represented their highest all season when they played together in the starting lineup. Still, Gasol’s game suffered because of Howard’s presence. Howard’s shaky mid-range jumper coupled with his reluctance to play pick-and-roll forced Gasol to play a facilitating role and away from the basket. Kaman possessed a dependable mid-range jumper and a stronger willingness to play pick-and-roll, which could allow both players to complement each other more.
Still, there will likely be an adjustment period, namely on defense. Neither player excels well on defense from both a physical and conditioning standpoint. Even though Jordan Hill should help mitigate those weaknesses, Gasol and Kaman will have to ensure they communicate frequently and remain fundamentally sound on when to switch and show on pick-and-roll coverages.
4. The partnership with Kobe Bryant will prove key Bryant has good reason to mostly publicly support Gasol. He helped Bryant win two of his last five NBA titles and overcome the overblown label that he couldn’t win without Shaq. The fiery Bryant and amenable Gasol usually mesh well. And their fundamentally sound approach to basketball can their on-court chemistry unstoppable. Still, Bryant and Gasol have shown frustration at times in past seasons. Gasol displays that at times when Bryant shoots too much. Bryant reveals his frustration at times when Gasol’s aggressiveness only come in spurts.
So while the partnership should thrive because of their past experience, it’s critical that both of them mitigate the habits that sometimes throws their chemistry off kilter. When Bryant and Gasol play together correctly, the images become as beautiful as a well-played orchestra.
5. Will Gasol last the entire season? The Lakers forward may feel some relief over remaining in purple and gold for yet another year. But as it has always been since the nixed Chris Paul trade, Gasol’s future will always seem tenuous. Should it become clear the Lakers aren’t making the playoffs before the trade deadline, it’ll be interesting to see if the front office finds it desirable to shed Gasol’s $19.3 million expiring contract to maximize the team’s financial flexibility for the 2014 offseason.
Gasol’s struggles in the past two seasons have mostly revolved around his reduced role than his emotional state. But depending on the Lakers’ success or struggles, such a factor will likely affect Gasol’s confidence.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org