For years, it was a pairing everyone in the NBA knew would work.
Pau Gasol, the likable, smart big man, and the San Antonio Spurs would be a perfect partnership — so perfect that it’s a surprise it took 16 seasons for it to actually happen.
“I think he’d been playing long enough that I think everybody knows what his game is, but he’s a wonderful human being,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s really intelligent, he’s got a lot of interests, a real worldly guy. You can talk to him about restaurants in this country or that country, he likes to go to the opera — not that that’s where I hang all the time. But he’s a very curious and intelligent young man, so it’s fun having him around.”
Perhaps not as obvious, though, is the answer to a question that’s been asked ever since the Lakers retired Kobe Bryant’s numbers on Dec. 18 – will Gasol be next?
“My first gut instinct is yes,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said Thursday. “He’s a teammate and we won championships because of him. Obviously when we traded for him, everything turned around for us here.
“But I have to look deeper into the numbers and amount of years that he did it. And it is tough for the Lakers, because the names up there aren’t just great players. They are all-time greats that a lot of them spent a lot of their career in L.A.”
In seven seasons with the Lakers, Gasol averaged nearly 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, winning a pair of NBA titles.
But if the Lakers were to retire Gasol’s number, only one other player in the rafters — Wilt Chamberlain — would have had a shorter tenure as a Laker.
At 37, Gasol is averaging 10.6 points and 8.2 rebounds for the Spurs.
“His skill-set, his passing ability, the way he reads the game, allows him to still play at such a high level even though he is obviously getting older,” Walton said. “We are going to do our best to test those legs and try to run him but it is a lot of fun watching him play the game of basketball.”
Popovich shrugs off LaVar Ball’s comments
In a less-than-surprising moment pregame, Popovich became the latest NBA coach to respond to LaVar Ball’s claims that Walton had lost the Lakers’ locker room.
“Whenever anyone says anything about another individual or the quality of another individual or what they’re doing, I think the first thing to look at is the substance and gravitas of the source that speaks. And just stopping at that point would tell you you don’t need to listen or go any further,” he said before Thursday’s game. “It’s just another fan in the peanut gallery with an opinion, which is meaningless. … It’s a situation that’s going to take time, it’s a process and it certainly doesn’t need any outside chatter from people who don’t have a clue and haven’t gotten over themselves.”