Pau Gasol will return next week for Lakers


ATLANTA — The trade deadline passed a few weeks ago, but the Lakers will add a significant player to their active roster next week.

Pau Gasol will return soon from torn plantar fascia in his right foot. The only game he ruled out was Friday at Indiana.

“Everything else is possible. I’m not going to hold myself back if I think I’m ready to play,” Gasol said Wednesday. “There’s not many games left in the season and every game will be valuable to us.

“We’re keeping our options open. We’re trying to see how I progress over the next few days.”

After Friday, the Lakers play Sunday against Sacramento and Monday in Phoenix, each possible return dates, though their next game after that, March 22 against Washington, gives Gasol an extra three days of recovery time.

He hasn’t played since Feb. 5 against Brooklyn.

The Lakers initially said he would be sidelined at least six to eight weeks, and in a rare spot of good injury news for them this season, the six-week mark would be Tuesday, meaning he might return earlier than expected.

He will also be a starter.

Gasol was essentially coming off the bench when he was injured, though he had started a few games while Dwight Howard dealt with a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Gasol will return to the starting lineup next week in place of struggling Earl Clark, unless conditioning reasons force him to come off the bench for a game or two, an unlikely event.

Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t want to repeat the distractions caused by Gasol’s demotion to reserve status, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Gasol is experiencing his worst season since his rookie year in Memphis (2001-02). He is averaging 13.4 points, which would be a career low if it doesn’t improve, and shooting only 45.3%, also a potential career low.

But his skills on offense will be welcomed by the team in general, including Kobe Bryant, an ardent Gasol supporter who seemed as disappointed as Gasol when the injury happened.