Ever since the NBA released its schedule last August, Pau Gasol immediately zeroed in on this upcoming date. He will return to Los Angeles for Thursday’s game against the Lakers, which will mark the first time he faced his former team at Staples Center since leaving them this offseason through free agency.
Gasol anticipated he will feel more emotional than when the Lakers visited the Bulls in Chicago for a Christmas Day matchup. Lakers coach Byron Scott sounded pretty confident the fans at Staples Center will feel just as sentimental and will greet him with a “standing ovation” for obvious reasons.
“This is a guy who was here that helped them win two championships,” said Scott, referring to the Lakers’ title runs in 2009 and 2010. “He deserves that. I thought Pau was a great player when he was here and is still a great player and having a lot of success in Chicago. Fans should show him the respect he deserves.”
The Lakers surely will. They plan to give the fans in attendance a commemorative T-Shirt and will play a pre-game tribute video capturing Gasol’s 6 1/2 year career with the Lakers after they acquired him in a trade in 2008 from the Memphis Grizzlies.
Yet, Gasol’s time with the Lakers featured some speed bumps.
The Lakers traded him the Houston Rockets as part of the deal that would have landed them Chris Paul in 2011. But then the NBA nixed the deal. Nothing was ever the same. The Lakers still entertained trade offers for Gasol. Gasol faced reduced roles from former coaches Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni. Various health ailments hurt Gasol’s play, too.
With the Lakers finishing last season with their worst record in L.A. franchise history, Gasol declined the Lakers offers for three-years at $29 million or two years and $23 million with a no-trade clause. Instead, Gasol accepted a three-year deal worth about $22.5 million to join the Bulls, where he has posted 18.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and a career-high 2.2 blocks. Gasol will also start for the Eastern Conference All-Stars in what will mark his fourth career All-Star appearance, his first since 2011. In the Lakers’ 113-93 Christmas Day loss to Chicago, Gasol posted 23 points and 13 rebounds.
“I think he’s rejuvenated,” Scott said. “He went there with a renewed sense of energy. Here in L.A., for whatever reasons, he was getting beat up a lot. It took a toll on him. I think that was one of the main reasons he went to Chicago.”
Gasol has told Los Angeles Newspaper Group, among other media outlets, that he mainly left for Chicago because that team gave him the best chance to win an NBA championship. Gasol remembers fondly the feeling on when he won two with the Lakers.
“When he first walks in the building, he’ll have a lot of emotions,” Scott predicted. “It’ll be a mixture of emotions. Once it’s all said and done and the game is over, the people here will appreciate it.”