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Pau Gasol hasn't played yet this season

November 1, 2009 |  2:17 pm
I'm sure y'all are aware of this, as it's hard to miss a seven foot Spaniard in street clothes.  However, I thought it was worth tossing out a reminder, since Friday night's loss to Dallas (and Trevor Ariza's nice game against Portland last night) has led to reader anxiety.  Is this team on track to repeat?  Was it a mistake not to retain Ariza at any cost?  Will Ron Artest ever fit like a glove in the Lakers' system?  Your consensus opinion is being tracked as we speak, but should the numbers poll unfavorably, it's important not to lose sight of one very crucial factor.

Pau Gasol hasn't played yet this season.

Aside from the obvious tangibles forgone without an elite big men and any team's second best player, Gasol's absence affects the Lakers beyond his own contributions.  The Lakers become easier to defend.  Pau commands more attention than anybody not named "Kobe" or "Bryant," allowing defenders to be a little more honest with their assigned man.  You're no longer sporting the league's best 4/5 combo, which makes you considerably less threatening.  Not "non-threatening," mind you, as Lamar Odom is no slouch as a sub.  But it's not the same thing as Bynum-Gasol, especially since Drew and LO haven't worked together much as a tandem over the years.  You lose Pau's outstanding passing skills, making baskets that much harder to come by, the offense becomes less fluid and certain players ill-equipped to create their own opportunities will be forced to try more often.  Odom as a starter leaves the bench considerably less potent, a reality witnessed quite often last season.  And defensively, Gasol is a better all around defender than every big man save LO, which creates a void felt on both sides of the ball. 

In the meantime, we all knew Artest would require a feeling out period as he acclimated himself to a new system.  And that was fine, in theory, because the Lakers have so many weapons that his learning curve could be experienced in a way where mistakes and awkwardness would be softened.  Without Gasol, everything instead grows magnified.  The margin for any error decreases and can come to back bite hindquarters. 

In short, this is a bad time to properly judge where the Lakers are at, because they're neither fully intact nor able to grow as the unit pictured.  For now, patience must be exhibited and perspective maintained.  All joking aside, it's just two games into the season (another reason it's a bad time to properly judge anything), we have a long ways to go and if you recall, last season featured many a Laker fan throwing up his hands after a loss (or even a mediocre win), wondering if the team had what it takes.  Clearly, they did.  Let's see a little more evidence of problems at full strength before baby and bathwater end up splattered on the lawn.