The longest goodbye for Pau Gasol

Six and a half years ago, my friend was batting around balls on a picturesque Northern California tennis court, the sun beaming down on another perfect day in the best state in this country. Right then and there, nothing could interrupt his leisurely pace as he fired yet another scorching serve. Nothing except for a friend running towards him with a cell phone.
 
“Dave! Dave! You’ll never believe what just happened! The Lakers traded for Pau Gasol!”
 
“Oh my God! Seriously? Who did we give up? Bynum?”
 
“No! The trade is Gasol for…let me look…Kwame Brown! Gasol for Kwame!”
 
“….dude, shut the eff up.”
 
Dave fired up one more scorching serve. And another. And another. Until he was done. He couldn’t believe that someone tried to pull a fast one on him with such a ridiculous, clearly fabricated story.
 
And then he went back to his apartment, looked at his computer and said “Oh my God! The Lakers traded for Pau Gasol with….Kwame Brown!??!?”
 
Was that your reaction that day? Wasn’t that everyone’s? Was there a Lakers fan alive that said anything else?
 
On February 1st, 2008, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Pau’s fat kid brother and a handful of draft picks for All-Star center Gasol. For a Lakers team that had languished in foreign territory at the bottom of the playoff bracket, it felt like a seismic trade … that couldn’t have come at a better time. LA had the best record in the Western Conference, a stunning development following a middling 42-40 record in the 2006-2007 regular season and a solid but not overwhelming signing of Derek Fisher in the offseason. A primary reason was the development of Andrew Bynum, who had emerged into an All-Star-caliber player, but had fallen victim to the first of several severe knee injuries.
 
The addition of Gasol buoyed the Lakers when they needed a life preserver the most, replacing the production of a young, inconsistent center with that of a tenured professional. At the time, Pau was just 27 years old and entering his prime. As much as we all felt that this deal put the Lakers on the precipice of a championship, very few could have anticipated the monumental heights the Spaniard would take us to. That doubt wasn’t without good reason.
 
Gasol was coming off a string of disappointing seasons, including three consecutive first-round playoff sweeps, falling victim to the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs. Critics had panned Pau as just another gutless Euro baller, whose game looked closer to a soft cloud on a clear day than a thundering tempest in the middle of the ocean. While there was no denying his talent, Gasol was portrayed as nothing more than a nice player that couldn’t ever lead a team to a title. Ever.
 
But even if that was the word swirling around the Spaniard, Lakers fans hardly noticed in his first half season with the team. With Gasol in the fold, the team went 27-6 the rest of the regular season, with their new center immediately fitting into Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and igniting a chemistry with Kobe Bryant that hadn’t been seen since his best days with Shaquille O’Neal. Praise was heaped on Pau as not just the season savior, but as perhaps the primary catalyst in hurtling the Lakers towards their 15th NBA Championship.
 
Two months after that concluding regular season contest, Pau went from a scraggly faced saint to a scapegoat of mythic proportions.
 
(Read and weep over at SS&R)

 

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