Pau Gasol shoots during pregame warmups. (Michael Perez / Associated…)
The Lakers have missed Pau Gasol. Before he sat down with tendinitis, he wasn't playing his best basketball, but the team fell apart in his absence, winning just three of eight.
"Another 7-footer in the lineup and probably the most skilled big guy in the league," said Coach Mike D'Antoni. "He’s important. There’s no doubt about it."
Unless Gasol wakes up Tuesday with additional soreness in his knees, he'll return to the lineup against the Charlotte Bobcats.
"I can move around much, much better," said Gasol, "without pain."
D'Antoni still needs to figure out how to get Dwight Howard and Gasol to fit together. It's not a given that the two are a championship combination.
Before Howard's arrival, former Lakers great Jerry West had told Dan Patrick (radio) that he wasn't sure whether Gasol and Andrew Bynum would work.
Coach Phil Jackson primarily used Lamar Odom with Gasol through the team's championship runs. As Bynum evolved into the team's second option, behind Kobe Bryant, Gasol struggled.
Last year Gasol was exposed in the playoffs, trying to stretch the floor for Bynum. This season, whether in Mike Brown's Princeton hybrid or Mike D'Antoni's system, Gasol is just uncomfortable playing far from the basket.
"Everybody wants everybody in the post. You know, we can’t put 15 guys down there in the post. We can’t do it. It doesn’t work," said D'Antoni. "Because if you’re posting him up, it means you’re not posting Dwight up and then you get criticized for not posting Dwight up."
Without Gasol, the Lakers are far worse, but with a suitable replacement would the team reach even greater heights?
While the New Orleans Hornets are fond of their forward Ryan Anderson, his ability to shoot the ball facing the basket would be a natural complement to Howard. He's probably not available to the Lakers, but he represents the concept of a better fit.
Technically Gasol is "better" than Anderson, but on this particular Lakers squad (theoretically), the Hornets forward might give the Lakers a better chance to win a title.
"We play a certain type of basketball," said D'Antoni, confident he'll be able to make it work with Gasol. "Now, we’ll try to get to guys' strengths and figure those out, but basically he’s going to be good in what we do. I know that."
Over the next month, the Lakers will take a long look at the possibilities. If Gasol, D'Antoni and the rest of the players can't figure out how to maximize their combined gifts, the Lakers might look to make a change.
Add in the economics of next year's luxury tax and the Lakers may have more reason than not to move Gasol.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.