Christmas comes early for Kobe Bryant this year, what with this special delivery from Santa’s summer home in Florida of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.
Oh, and a hearty Feliz Navidad to Pau Gasol as well.
Gasol won’t be relocating. He doesn’t have to play center anymore. And he and Bryant can start rebuilding their interpersonal chemistry that took a beating last season.
Now, admittedly, the arrival of a superstar big man who averaged 20.6 points, 13.4 field-goal attempts and 10.6 free-throw attempts with a 26.1 percent usage rate is going to require some offensive adjustments from Gasol. But so did the Lakers’ shift in emphasis last season to Andrew Bynum, who got off shots nearly as frequently as Howard, lacking only the hack-a-Dwight opportunities from the line.
Gasol gets to exploit his mismatches against many power forwards, without being subjected to the pounding of post play and cross-traffic in the lane. He’ll have Steve Nash organizing the offense, which will go down easier than Bryant dribble-dribble-dribbling for 18 seconds. Mostly, though, Gasol gets to stay, not only contributing to the Lakers’ stunning new front line but also benefiting from it.
Bryant has to know that, too. As focused as he might be – and surely Laker fans are – on their team’s new toys, Howard and Nash, this all looks better, makes sense and sparks excitement because L.A. manages to retain Gasol.
All along, Bryant has maintained that his repeated blisterings of Gasol, so heated, so public, are intended to motivate and focus his Euro teammate. It’s supposed to be, well, Jordan-esque in that way, like His Airness goading Steve Kerr or Luc Longley for something. It even has gotten results at times. Bryant knows and appreciates Gasol’s hoops IQ, he just believes Pau’s pilot light burns low.
Still, it never has suited Gasol’s style. And aside from some expressed empathy from Bryant when Gasol’s name got bandied about in trade rumors, the chastisings and Bryant’s volume shooting led to a bigger gulf between them last season than at any previous point in their five seasons together.
Now the spotlight is on Howard and Nash. The expectations never change in Lakersland — win big now — but the two newbies will be shouldering most of them.
Bryant, meanwhile, can look around him and see that Lamar Odom is gone, Derek Fisher is gone, Bynum is gone too. The one teammate who has been around for all three Finals trips and both championships since 2008, the one guy who — with his contributions certainly and through all the drama that comes with life in Staples Center — has had Bryant’s back has been Gasol.
So it was nice when Bryant told reporters in Spain a couple weeks ago about Gasol: “As long as I’m there, he’s going to be there.”
It’s even better that Gasol will be around to enjoy whatever success Howard and Nash and all the new dynamics bring, rather than being the piece that helped provide them.