Lakers season wrap: Pau Gasol finished injury-plagued season strong
After an awkward start to the season, Lakers forward/center Pau Gasol finished strong after returning from a foot injury.
The Lakers had a slow start to the season with multiple injuries. Initially Dwight Howard and Gasol had poor chemistry on the floor together. Howard was trying to work his way back into shape after sitting out the off-season following back surgery.
Gasol found himself far from the basket, in a confusing hybrid-Princeton offense for Mike Brown, whom the Lakers fired after five games. When Coach Mike D’Antoni took over, he wasn’t quite sure how to play Howard and Gasol together.
To be fair, Gasol was laboring with knee pain, giving the Lakers two slow bigs whose height was often overwhelmed by opponents’ speed.
Gasol shot just 41.7% from the field through November but sat eight games in early December to rest his knees. Eight games after his return, Gasol suffered a concussion in a loss to the Denver Nuggets, sitting out the Lakers’ next five games.
Upon his second return, D’Antoni moved Gasol to the bench despite the veteran forward’s protests. By February, the Lakers coach returned Gasol back to the starting lineup where he averaged 20 points a game for three games until he tore his plantar fascia (foot).
Gasol went down on Feb. 5 and didn’t return until March 22, missing 20 games.
When he finally healed, Gasol put up some of his best numbers of the season, finally finding chemistry with a much-healthier Howard. Over Gasol’s final 11 games, he averaged 16.5 points on 52.7% shooting, 10.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
By the playoffs, the Lakers had lost almost their entire backcourt (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, etc.), getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Gasol finished the year averaging 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He shot a career-low 46.6% from the field.
When Howard and Gasol were healthier, in the waning weeks of the season, they finally developed a potent high-low chemistry. Coach D’Antoni turned to Gasol to be more of a playmaker than scorer and the Lakers ended the regular season in April with seven wins in eight tries.
His best game was on the night Bryant tore his Achilles’ tendon against the Golden State Warriors. Gasol notched a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Lakers finished in seventh place with a 45-37 record, winning 28 of their final 40 despite Gasol missing exactly half of the games over that stretch.
Now the Lakers have to decide their future, starting with Howard, who is a free agent. If he leaves, Gasol is somewhat likely to finish out the final $19.3 million on his contract as the team’s center.
If Howard re-signs, the organization has to decide if they can afford to keep Gasol.
The Lakers are more likely to shop him on the trade market instead of using their one-time amnesty on Gasol. If amnestied, Gasol would still get his money but the Lakers would wipe his contract from their salary cap, and more importantly, their luxury tax bill.
If the Lakers keep essentially the same roster next season, taxes could climb to $80 million for the year.
Gasol recently underwent a knee procedure to clean scar tissue from his knees. He’ll receive stem-cell injections in the same area next week to promote the regrowth of tissue, followed by a 12-week recovery.
It’s unclear if Gasol will be back with the Lakers next season but he has been effusive that he prefers to be. The Lakers have a number of economic issues to deal with that might trump putting out the best team on the floor.
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