Evidence continued to mount Thursday night in Boston that just maybe Pau Gasol isn’t the cause of all that is wrong in the Lakers universe and that dumping him by the side of the road is not the answer. (Unless the trade is for a new focus, a coach who’s system is a better fit, or a playoff-tested power forward with the game and personality to complement stars. Then by all means, dump away.)
The 116-95 loss to the Celtics, with Gasol replacement Earl Clark managing five points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes, was hardly the first reminder that Gasol had unfairly become a convenient target for many angry fans and one coach grasping for solutions. But it was the first update bulletin since news that Gasol would be sidelined a minimum of six to eight weeks with a foot injury, a particularly unwelcome development since he was also the backup to hurting center Dwight Howard and the Lakers had already lost another power forward, Jordan Hill, for the season.
More than anything, though, it was the latest reminder. Gasol has not performed close to a player on the books for $19.29 million, lowlighted by being called out by coach Mike D’Antoni for conditioning issues and then ultimately being pulled from the lineup by D’Antoni in favor of Clark. He is not, though, the primary cause of this 23-27 cleanup on Aisle 4.
The Lakers with Gasol in the lineup: 18-28, a .391 win percentage.
The Lakers without Gasol in the lineup: 5-9, a 357 win percentage.
He has missed eight games in December with tendinitis in both knees (3-5), five in January because of a concussion (2-3) and now the first of many with the torn tissue in the right foot. Some of those were when Steve Nash was sidelined, some were when Howard was recovering. But a Gasol absence has equaled tougher times.
He is not impossible to trade now, if the other team doesn’t see itself as a championship contender this season and rates a Gasol acquisition as a step to get there eventually, but the latest injury makes it very, very difficult to move him. The best-case scenario on the timetable the Lakers announced Thursday after he was examined by a foot specialist is that Gasol is back in late-March, with three, maybe four, weeks to go before the playoffs. If the recovery is more like the two months noted, it’s one week of prep time for the postseason. And if he blows past the minimums entirely, this could turn out to be a season-ending injury.
Clark is expected to remain in the opening lineup and be backed up by Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace, the starter at small forward. That is tonight at Charlotte and probably for what once upon a time would have been a great showdown, Sunday afternoon at Miami. Lakers depth, a fragile concept in the best of times, has taken another hit, one of the keys to comparative success is out six to eight weeks, and the clock is ticking on the playoff hopes.