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Gasol returns to where it all began again for Lakers

December 22, 2008|Mike Bresnahan

MEMPHIS, TENN. — Meanwhile, at the midpoint of a dicey four-game trip . . .

Pau Gasol will play in Memphis tonight for the first time since the Lakers plucked him from the Grizzlies almost 11 months ago, an event that sent ripples through the Western Conference, turned the Lakers from what? to wow, and caused general managers to slap foreheads in disbelief.

Gasol spent 6 1/2 seasons with the Grizzlies, guiding them to three playoff appearances and earning an All-Star appearance in 2006, though he never won a playoff game, an 0-12 blemish that might have stayed behind in fans' minds as he left Memphis.

He might be booed during pregame introductions. Or he might be cheered. Either way, he'll be back.

Fans in the southwest corner of Tennessee have already heard from Memphis Commercial Appeal writer Ronald Tillery, who authored a column saying Gasol should be held in high esteem because he owned numerous franchise records and "never quit on the court." (Not to mention that the Grizzlies now have salary-cap room without his contract and have built an energetic, future-driven team.)

Gasol, 28, requested a trade from the Grizzlies in January 2007, which didn't endear him to the local citizenry, even after he backed away from it.

But as Tillery wrote, "No one is asking Memphis to bestow poster-sized appreciation on Gasol . . . just a show of thanks for another good guy who made the Grizzlies relevant."

Gasol will accept it either way.

"If they welcome me, I'll be appreciative and I'll be excited about it," he said. "If they don't, I'll be a little disappointed, but I can't control that."

Gasol's arrival in Los Angeles was obviously hailed by the Lakers.

Owner Jerry Buss said he received an animated phone call from Kobe Bryant the day of the trade. The Lakers' front office buzzed with anticipation. The only unhappy people were those not connected to the franchise. (San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich infamously reacted by demanding the league install a trade committee to review each and every trade. He later said he was joking.)

Gasol is averaging 17.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and was recently tabbed the team's most consistent player this season by Coach Phil Jackson.

He will probably make the All-Star team as a reserve, his passing in the post and outside touch making him one of the top multidimensional forwards in the Western Conference.

He has inhaled the L.A. lifestyle, remodeling a Redondo Beach home near the ocean and being seen at a variety of top-notch restaurants.

And yet, Gasol still has ties in Tennessee. His parents live in a home he owns there and his younger brother, Marc, lives in a condominium he owns.

In fact, his younger brother, a blip near the end of the laundry list given up by the Lakers to obtain Gasol, fits snugly into tonight's story as well.

Marc Gasol, who was selected by the Lakers in the second round of the 2007 draft, was sent to Memphis along with Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and two first-round picks.

After an MVP campaign in the Spanish ACB League and a trip to the Olympic gold-medal game with the Spanish national team, he is averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds as a 23-year-old rookie forward-center with the Grizzlies.

He lacks the finesse and experience of his older brother but tries to compensate by throwing his body around the paint in true power-forward style.

"He fights and he hustles," Pau Gasol said.

And he's going to be nervous.

"I'm sure I'll have butterflies," Marc Gasol said. "But I'm going to enjoy it."

Maybe the older Gasol will enjoy his return to FedExForum, an event that Grizzlies fans have pondered since the day he left, for better or worse.

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Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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