By Andrew Upshaw
I did my conventional take on the Dwight Howard trade a few times already. In short, it’s awesome. The Lakers are awesome for pulling it off and now their team will be awesome next season. Laker fans are extremely happy, and as am I. But… I overheard two Laker fans talking about the trade the other day. One guy brought up “the Lakers” and the other guy finished his sentence with “will actually have a good team this year”. I thought it was funny, other NBA fans might have thought it stupid. The Lakers are good every year. They have one of the best players of all-time in Kobe Bryant and before them they had Shaq, and Magic, and Kareem, and… etc. Hell, they just won the title a couple years ago. Really. The Lakers were the champs in 2010 and 2009. Casual Laker fans have already forgotten.
They don’t appreciate how great it is to be a Laker or Laker fan enough. That mentality leads people to scapegoat players after playoff loses instead of remembering the good times and in the case of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, wishing they were traded. Andrew Bynum was the biggest loser of this mentality but Gasol has suffered as well. Lets give them their props as Lakers. Pau is already an all-time Laker great in my book. Bynum is another story. As Bynum became a great player, the Lakers stopped being a great team and he became a great asset to be traded away in order to return the team to greatness. That wasn’t the greatest sentence.
Kobe gets most of the glory when the Lakers win and little of the blame when they lose. That’s what happens win you win five tiles with a team. Shaq was the best player on those early 2000s teams. He was the best player in the NBA at that time and absolutely dominated. That doesn’t take anything away from Kobe, but it’s a point that it often forgotten. Kobe didn’t win a title as the Man on the Lakers until 2009 when he was 30 years old. What else is forgotten is that long stretch when Kobe couldn’t get out of the first round. Kobe didn’t have a lot of help back then and kept Laker fans only semi-invested with his insane scoring performances, two of which I caught in person. Kobe had Lamar Odom as his second best teammate. He had Phil Jackson as his coach. He had a promising young Center in Andrew Bynum. Hell in 2007 the Lakers even brought his old pal Derek Fisher back. But the Kobe-led Lakers weren’t shit until they traded for Pau Gasol in early 2008. That team was very respectable with Bynum in the middle but they didn’t truly take off until the Gasol trade. After the trade the Lakers immediately went on a big run with Pau learning the triangle offense at record speed.
2008 was the year that Kobe won his first and only MVP. Wouldn’t have happened without Pau. The Lakers made the Finals for the first time since Shaq, losing the Celtics in 6 games. The less said about that series the better. I watched game 1 on NBA TV a couple of weeks ago and fully believed the Lakers could have won or at least took the Celtics to 7 games. Generally speaking the Celtics got the best of the Lakers including Kobe who shot only 40% from the field. Next season the Lakers were juggernauts during the regular season winning 65 games, which is often overlooked. The Cavs were looked at as the favorites going into the playoffs but were upset by the Dwight Howard led Magic. While Pau was outplayed by KG in 2008 he handily outplayed his new teammate Dwight in the 2009 Finals. Pau now had to be recognized as one of the best in the game. He was and he wasn’t. Not a whole lot was made of Pau outplaying Dwight, most of the focus was on Kobe winning his first non-Shaq ring. No doubt winning without Shaq was an important milestone in Kobe’s career, but Pau Gasol’s name should always be included in that sentence as well.
The 2010 Laker season is mad underrated from an entertainment standpoint. That was a difficult season. Kobe played with a broken finger the whole damn season and sometime around the all-star game he messed up his knee. Kobe gutted it out and hit a bunch of game winners but this was the first time that Kobe looked vulnerable, and old. The guy who carried the Lakers in 2010 wasn’t Kobe it was Pau. Pau was the Lakers MVP under the radar posting a higher PER than Kobe and further staking his claim as the best big man in the league. The Lakers only won 57 games that regular season and looked mad vulnerable going into the playoffs( once again people were on Lebron’s nuts and had the Cavs as the favorites). The Lakers had problems with the upstart Thunder until Kobe pulled himself out of his grave midseries. Pau got the series clincher though on a tip-in off a Kobe miss. Had to be. The playoff version of the Lakers was much better than the regular season and the one-two punch of Kobe and Pau was too much for the Western conference. The Celtics had a similar playoffs run as KG climbed out of his grave as well and the Celtics upset the Cavs.
The 2010 Finals were ugly and both teams struggled to score. Pau had big games early on but the Lakers were down 3-2 going into game 6. Game 6 was a blowout and game 7 was a rock fight. Kobe had one of the worst shooting games of his career but the Lakers were kept a float but Ron Artest’s scoring and Pau’s rebounding. Pau managed to score 19 but his 18 boards 9 of which were offensive put the game away for real. Kobe won the MVP again but deep down he knew Pau deserved it just as much as he did. Kevin Durant felt the same way. Pau’s stock in 2010 was as high as ever been and suddenly people couldn’t front on him anymore. He had to be considered a top ten player in the NBA and a legit hall of fame threat.
Pau rode that goodwill into the 2010-2011 season and actually looked like a legit MVP candidate for the first couple months of the season. But at that point Pau was carrying a big load. Andrew Bynum once again missed the start of the season and Pau played mad amounts of minutes. For a stretch in March the Lakers looked dominant but I had my doubts. The playoffs in 2011 was some of the weirdest shit ever. The Lakers struggle to beat The Hornets. Pau had some of the worst games of his career in that series. The next series they were stomped by Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea and the Dallas Mavericks. I mean they got their asses kicked. Pau got 150% of the blame. I actually don’t think Pau played as bad as people said he did. Truth be told, NO ONE on the Lakers played well in that series, including Kobe. But it was a legit fall off for the Spaniard and his Laker career has never been the same since.
Pau got beat up in the media in the 2011 offseason almost as bad as Lebron did. Once the lockout ended the Lakers traded Pau to the Rockets and Lamar to the Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul. David Stern vetoed the trade and the Pau got to play the weirdest season ever in LA. He was constantly in trade rumors and he was pushed to the high post as Bynum became a great NBA player in his own right. I actually understand why Mike Brown put Pau in the high post. Pau is so versatile that he makes you think that he can thrive under any situation. And to a certain extend he did. Pau still put up All-Star numbers but his perception around the league was off. Pau can hit that jumper and make that pass as well as any body but his true strength is his low post skills and once you take that away from him, he’s just a supped up Brandon Bass. The Lakers lost again in the playoffs and big changes were hinted at. The Lakers signed Steve Nash around the 4th of July. Many people assumed that Pau would be gone before Drew but in early August the Lakers pulled the trigger on a Dwight Howard trade that has made them title contenders again.
Dwight Howard is rightfully seen as the Laker’s savior and the guy most likely to carry on the Laker tradition after Kobe retires. That’s all good and well but Pau Gasol did that before it was all trendy.