Gasol is hoping he’ll get to stay with the Lakers
EL SEGUNDO, California – Pau Gasol felt simultaneously hurt and hopeful Saturday as he left the Los Angeles Lakers’ training complex for maybe the final time — or maybe just the final time until Sunday.
Although Gasol has no idea whether his first practice of training camp will be his last with the Lakers, he’s still hoping something will happen to keep him with the club that seems determined to trade him.
“It’s not been easy,” Gasol said. “Mentally and emotionally, it’s a hard situation to deal with because the situation is out of your control. Even knowing that, it’s still hard.”
The four-time All-Star is the centerpiece of the Lakers’ pursuit of Chris Paul, New Orleans’ superstar point guard. The NBA stunningly rejected a megatrade on Thursday that would have sent Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to the Hornets, yet the three teams went back into negotiations a day later in hopes of salvaging the deal — and sending Gasol and Odom away from their beloved club just when they thought they had a reprieve.
“If the NBA hadn’t stopped it, I would be gone,” Gasol said. “I wouldn’t be here. It’s tough to keep your balance. At the same time, I’m happy it hasn’t happened, because my heart is here, my mind is here. I want to be here.”
Odom didn’t report to practice at the Lakers’ training complex on Saturday, instead getting a physical elsewhere. Gasol showed up and worked out with his longtime teammates at what’s turning into an awkward training camp for new coach Mike Brown.
So why would a player with Gasol’s accomplishments and pedigree stick by a team that apparently doesn’t want him? Just in case the deal can’t be completed, Gasol wants to learn about Brown’s new tactics while forming a bond with teammates who might be his opponents this season.
“This is what I love to do,” Gasol said. “I’ve been through so much here. We won two championships in 3 1/2 seasons. I was looking forward to winning another one, making another run. I love practicing with my teammates. It was hard for me to sit down with my quad, just watching and sitting. Today I wanted to try it, and I was able to go and practice without too much soreness.”
Gasol’s honest love for the franchise must be painful for the Lakers, who uniformly praise him as a fine teammate and one of the NBA’s best big men. Gasol’s arrival in early 2008 catapulted the Lakers into three consecutive NBA finals with Gasol as Kobe Bryant’s top lieutenant, and his fluent Spanish has endeared him to Latino fans across Los Angeles.
“I’ve always been a committed and respectful person, and I will continue to be,” Gasol said. “Whatever happens, hopefully it’ll happen quick, so I can adjust to the idea, to either idea — whether it’s staying here and preparing myself for a very challenging season full of goals and exciting things, or a change in scenario.”
Gasol hasn’t been able to talk to Odom, who showed up briefly at the Lakers’ training complex on Friday for a meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak, but left without practicing.
“I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for him, either,” Gasol said. “He has been here longer than I have. You try to make the city you play in your home, but it’s hard to do it because once you get established and comfortable and settled, anything can happen. It’s part of the business.”
Brown still has no idea which big men will suit up for him in two weeks when the Lakers host the Chicago Bulls in their Christmas season opener. The new coach has no choice but to proceed while Kupchak and the Lakers’ brass attempt to land arguably the NBA’s best point guard at the cost of decimating their enviable frontcourt depth and talent.
“His length and his skill set and all that stuff, it’s hard to replace,” Brown said of Gasol. “He’s a very good player. His mood was good. Going what he went through and what Lamar went through, it’s a tough thing to deal with. So, you respect that and you give those guys space. You let them be.”
Bryant has remained publicly neutral about the Lakers’ decision, neither endorsing a potential deal for Paul nor expressing support for Gasol and Odom.
When asked if Gasol’s presence was awkward Saturday, Kobe summed up the weekend with his typical brevity: “Nope.”