Pau Gasol was considered a savior of sorts when he came to the Lakers in February 2008. Fans hoped he could rescue a Lakers’ dream season that was quickly turning into a nightmare.
A former NBA rookie of the year and All-Star with the Memphis Grizzlies, Gasol was traded to the Lakers in his seventh season for a package of draft picks and players, including his younger brother Marc. The deal was considered a steal for the Lakers, who had dropped five of 10 games since big man Andrew Bynum was sidelined with a knee injury.
Gasol did not disappoint. The 7-foot center from Barcelona had 24 points and 12 rebounds in his Lakers debut and averaged 18.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.56 blocks a game down the stretch as the team went 22-5 to secure the top seeding in the Western Conference.
The Lakers cruised through the Western Conference playoffs but couldn’t get past archrival Boston in the NBA Finals. Gasol’s finesse style of play didn’t work against the more physical Celtics and he struggled throughout the series, averaging 14.7 points a game.
Angry fans looking for someone to blame (particularly for a humiliating 131-92 loss in the closeout games) began questioning Gasol’s toughness, mockingly referring to him as Pau "Gasoft."
The insults didn’t go unnoticed. "I heard it a lot," he told The Times’ Bill Plaschke. "I heard it too much."
Gasol decided it was time to toughen up. He started working out several times a week to enable
himself to be a little more physical when necessary during games. By the summer of 2010, Gasol had two NBA championship rings in his possession -– and no one was doubting his toughness anymore.
In the 2009 Finals against Orlando, Gasol averaged 18.6 points and was often the primary defender on Orlando’s Dwight Howard, whose 15.4 points a game was a dramatic dropoff from the 25.8 he put up against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
A year later against Boston, Gasol fought his way through the defenders that had knocked him around two years earlier, this time averaging 18.6 points a game. He showed particular resolve in Game 7 as the Lakers battled back from 13 points down, at one point letting out a primal scream after sinking a shot, and finished the game with his third straight double-double (19 points and 18 rebounds).
Gasol played well as the start of the 2010-11 season, earning NBA player of the month honors in November as he helped the Lakers overcome Andrew Bynum’s injury-related absence. He averaged 20.3 points per game and shot 54.1% from the floor during the month. His 28-point performance in a Nov. 21 victory over Golden State marked the sixth time in team history that a player had finished a game with perfect shooting while attempting at least 10 shots (10-for-10 from the floor, eight-for-eight from the line).
As the season progressed, however, inconsistencies began to develop in Gasol’s game. After receiving a pep talk from Kobe Bryant following a disappointing effort in a loss to the Boston Celtics on Jan. 31, Gasol had a productive February, averaging 59.2% shooting and 20.5 points per game. But the good times were fleeting. Gasol’s lackluster playoff performance, which prompted Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson to push him to play more aggressively, ultimately played a role in the Lakers’ Western Conference semifinals loss to eventual NBA champion Dallas.
March 22, 2012