Pau Gasol and revisionist history

7 Comments

He won two titles for them. Yes, the Lakers had improved tremendously in 2007-2008 , but without him, they never would have made it to the Finals, nor won them the next two. It was only eight months ago that he was called “the best big man in the league” and touted as a possible MVP candidate.

So before we get to the business of burying Pau Gasol for arguably the most disappointing performance by a Lakers star in NBA history, we should take note. The crushing disappointment of failing to close out the three-peat, the seemingly inevitable glorious end to Phil Jackson’s coaching career, the cementing of the Lakers as the winningest team in the NBA with their 18th title, all of these expectations would not have been possible or reasonable without Gasol’s contributions. So before we start to flambe his role in this disaster, we had better recognize that Pau Gasol has been an incredible player for the Lakers, and a huge debt of gratitude is owed to him for his contributions to the Lakers’ title runs.

Now that we’ve said that… man, did Pau get punked.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Perhaps more than anything, the notion that Pau Gasol can be this teams next great leader was swept away. His sudden and odd postseason disappearance was the most obvious reason for the Lakers troubles, his fall completed Sunday when he scored 10 points while being pushed around by everyone but his coach, who thankfully refrained from hitting him for a second consecutive game.

“I have to learn from this,” Gasol said. I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court.”

He was referring to the report that he stopped talking to Bryant during the postseason because Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, had contributed to the breakup of Gasol and his longtime girlfriend. Lakers fans will remember that Karl Malone once publicly accused Vanessa of interfering with his personal life in a similar fashion.

via Lakers-Mavericks: Divided Lakers simply get lost on way to three-peat – latimes.com.

Gasol denied Bryant’s involvement in the situation in an alternate report, but the shady nature of the rumor and Gasol’s response to it blends in with this L.A. nightmare. The bigger problem is that even though breaking up with your fiance is a rough, rough thing to go through, especially when it’s tinged with public scrutiny, it won’t matter. Just like fans and media revolt at the idea of it being a worker’s right to change jobs or locations once his contract is available, despite it being totally acceptable outside of sports, so too will they reject the notion that a significant disruption in one’s personal life is an acceptable cause for failure. All of Gasol’s previous efforts and triumphs are being rewritten as more to do with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson (who has bizarrely escaped much scrutiny in this disaster, despite most of the problems being directly in his wheelhouse, effort, motivation, mental focus, etc.). The calls are out there to trade Gasol and bring in someone tougher. Gasol’s soft touch has always bugged Lakers fans. You want  your big man to throw it down, not tap it in; to reject the opponent, not faintly contest. But the biggest reason he’s being flogged for all of this?

He really was that bad. He’s been badly outplayed in these playoffs by his younger brother Marc, whose Grizzlies hold a 2-1 series lead over the second-favorite Thunder. And everything the younger Gasol has shown (toughness, tenacious attack, physicality, and that soft touch that proves so effective) is what the elder lacked. He was bullied by Tyson Chandler, abused by Dirk Nowitzki, and his string of mistakes seemed to feed off themselves. Blown passes, mishandled catches, missed layups, botched tip-ins, Gasol was outworked, out-hustled and looked older than his birth date would suggest.

Being a No.2 on a team is difficult, you have to be great without getting all the credit. But you’re also counted on to be the emotional and physical leader when the star is too bogged down with his responsibilities. Gasol found out the hard way what happens when things don’t fall exactly right, and if the talk of a Lakers’ blow-up is accurate, it could be a lesson that shows him out of town.

We won’t forget what Gasol did for the Lakers to get them two titles and three consecutive Finals appearances. But we also won’t forget how when the going got tough? The Gasol got got.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

0 Comments

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

0 Comments

Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

0 Comments

There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.