He lived what seemed like 99 lives as a Laker, Pau Gasol going from the Pau Gasoft who couldn’t handle the rugged Boston Celtics to the Boom-Boom Pau who helped deliver back-to-back NBA championships.
Then came the Pout Gasol years, and who could blame him, considering trades real and imagined always had Gasol wondering whether he had played his final game as a Laker?
He finally did in April, the end to a historically bad season serving as the prelude to his departure from Los Angeles after 5 1/2 years.
The Chicago Bulls offered less money than the Lakers did this summer in free agency, and the veteran center was elated to take them up on the pay cut if it meant no more vacillating over his future.
“Just a gut feeling that I needed to move on,” Gasol said Monday prior to a game against the Clippers at Staples Center that he would sit out because of a strained left calf. “I needed something different, I needed to be in a different position where I could be assimilated, where I could be motivated every single day, where I could be rejuvenated, where I could win and strive for greatness again.”
He appears to have all those things with a championship contender, the Bulls poised to make the kind of Finals foray that Gasol experienced three times as a Laker. Gasol’s contentment is reflected in his statistics, his average of 18.6 points per game his highest since the 2010-11 season and his average of 2.5 blocks the highest of his career.
“Sometimes a change of scenery is what a player needs,” Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Gasol, 34, is still a Laker in many ways. He referred to Lakers fans as “our fans” before catching himself and lobbed a shot at the Clippers when asked about children in Southern California shifting allegiances from the Lakers in the wake of their prolonged struggles.
It’s evident that Gasol has thought about his return to face his former team at Staples Center; otherwise he wouldn’t have memorized the date.
“It’s kind of a progression toward what it’s going to be on Jan. 29,” Gasol said of playing the Clippers at Staples first in a dress rehearsal in which his ensemble consisted of a dark sport coat, slacks and a blue dress shirt.
Gasol said he agonized over whether to remain a Laker last summer before accepting the Bulls’ three-year, $22-million offer. Among those lobbying him to stay put was Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
“He wanted me to stay, and part of me also wanted to stay with him and just ride it out because we’ve been through magnificent times, but also some rough times, and I’m not the type of person who just jumps ship when things get hard,” Gasol said. “But I was at a point emotionally that I just needed to move on for myself and the rest of my career.”
Constant upheaval will do that. Gasol’s name was one that floated around every year at the trade deadline after then-NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the trade that would have made Chris Paul a Laker and Gasol a Houston Rocket in December 2011.
“You helped a team win several titles and then you keep being in trade rumors, I can’t imagine,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “I think emotionally that had to be hard for you to have the right spirit or commit.”
Ultimately, Gasol didn’t, taking his talents halfway across the country.
“Maybe if things happened a different way, maybe it would have worked out a little differently, but I don’t know,” Gasol said of his situation with the Lakers. “You have to stick to what happened and reality, and now I’ve just got to focus on the present.”
The present is promising, and for once, Gasol’s future seems secure.