Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dump Pau Gasol, the Lakers' Locker Room Cancer

The LA Lakers, a dysfunctional mess as usual, are immersed in yet another soap opera. Once again, there's a cancer eating away at the team, dividing the locker room. This season it's center Pau Gasol. His relationship with his teammates grows uglier by the moment, with the team in free fall, even losing to the NBA's bottom-feeders.

Last season the Lakers' cancer was Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, who played hard only when he felt like it, partly because he hated both coach Mike D'Antoni and his fast-paced system. But Howard bailed out at the end of the season. Unfortunately his exit, applauded by knowledgeable Lakers fans, didn't leave the team cancer-free. Now Gasol has become the villain--the lazy prima donna who rarely plays all out and who's always nursing some injury. Lately he's been sitting out games because of an upper respiratory infection. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or LeBron James doing that?

In most games, Gasol is a shadow of the player who anchored the championship teams last decade. On defense his job is to patrol the paint and challenge anyone who drives to the basket. But, because of his half-hearted efforts, opponents look like they're having layup drills throughout the game.

According to two sources close to several players, Gasol's teammates are furious with him. It's a tension-filled locker room, mainly, say the sources, because of the animosity toward Gasol. They're angry at his minimal effort on the court and his sitting out games because of what appears to be a minor ailment.

According to one source, a Laker player told him, referring to Gasol: "The dude just has a bad cold. He should play through that. He's got no heart." Apparently, that's the consensus of his Laker teammates.

The problem is that the team, which is without Kobe Bryant for the next two months, consists of grade B and C role players, mostly young guys with no seniority who are relatively low on the NBA totem pole. Gasol, however, is a veteran former All-Star with one of the league's fattest salaries. According to the sources, none of these young Lakers feel they have enough clout to yell at Gasol, to tell him their true feelings and order him to shape up. So they bitch about him to each other, behind his back. Said one source, if Gasol paid any attention to his teammates he'd realize they resent him and have little respect for him.

Many stars in the league are, like Gasol, highly paid slackers. But they can get away with it because they're in small markets or maybe they're surrounded by first-rate players who pick up the slack. Gasol, however, is being flaky when he's under a national microscope. He's the lone quality player--and by far the highest-paid--on arguably the most popular team in the league. What happens to the Lakers, a premiere NBA franchise, is major national sports news. Gasol is not dogging it in Milwaukee or Charlotte, he's going through the motions on a high-profile team in the second largest media market in the country.

What's really ailing Gasol? One of his big problems is coach D'Antoni, who covets a fast-breaking system that's alien to lumbering, aging, post-up players like Gasol. It was D'Antoni, by the way, who drove Dwight Howard to Houston. Maybe Gasol is angry about something else. Who knows? Who cares? What matters is that he's behaving in a totally unprofessional manner.

The Lakers have tried to trade Gasol, but can't get equal value for him. Realizing the team is desperate to unload the center, interested teams are low-balling the Lakers, offering much less than he's worth.

No matter. What do you do when you have a cancer? You get rid of it. What should the Lakers do with Gasol? Dump him. He's killing the team. His behavior says he doesn't want to be a Laker. So get rid of him. Getting a player or two of lesser talent--players who hustle and work hard and want to be Lakers-- in return for Gasol is a plus.

Gasol's slacker act is tired. The players are sick of  him. Most fans are fed up too. Dump him. The Lakers will be much better off without him