Pau Gasol relieved he didn't get traded to Houston Rockets
Once tipoff approaches, Pau Gasol will arrive at Staples Center, go through starting lineup introductions and greet his opponent at halfcourt.
Had NBA Commissioner David Stern not interfered in a three-team trade, the Lakers-Rockets game Tuesday would have featured Gasol in different circumstances. He would play at center instead of power forward. He would wear a red uniform instead of a gold one. He would match up against his former teammate Andrew Bynum instead of forward Luis Scola. But Gasol maintains he won't think about such scenarios once he actually steps foot on the Staples Center court.
"Maybe one or two [thoughts], but once I get into the game I'm too focused right now to try to help the team win," Gasol said.
The Lakers (3-3) have plenty of issues entering Tuesday's game against the Rockets (2-2), what with a new coaching staff, Kobe Bryant's torn ligament in his right wrist and the team's inconsistency in closing out games. But that pales to what Houston faces with Yao Ming's retirement, Chuck Hayes and Shane Battier leaving via free agency and a large void at the center spot.
That's partly why Gasol remained relieved Stern rejected a trade that would have sent him to Houston, Chris Paul to the Lakers and Scola, Lamar Odom and Kevin Martin to the New Orleans Hornets. After winning two NBA championships and appearing in three consecutive Finals, the last thing Gasol wanted was to join a mid-tier team.
"It was going to be kind of a rebuilding situation," Gasol said. "You'd try to be competitive. It wasn't so much about the franchise or the city. It was just about the situation and how different it would've been than from what I'm used to now. That would've been very hard for me to adjust to, but if it happened and had gone down, I still would've done my best to do what I do and be the player I am and continue to play my best."
Instead, Gasol has vowed to do so with the Lakers. Even though he felt hurt over the Lakers' attempt to ship him, that didn't sour his enthusiasm the way it did for Odom. He remained professional. He arrived to training camp and avoided talking much about it with teammates. And he frequently talked with the media, aware that talks about his flimsy future would often arise.
"I think he's done well with it," said Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who's been connected in trade rumors involving Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony in past seasons. "He understands it's a business and everybody is up for grabs at any time. It's nothing personal ... All you can do is play well and make sure your team needs you."
Gasol has done just that. He has averaged 17.3 points on a 55.4% clip, 8.7 rebounds and two blocks through the Lakers' first six games. That's a far improvement from his tepid playoff showing last season, he had 13.1 points on 42% shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
"Pau's playing great," Coach Mike Brown said. "I don't think there's anything wrong with the way he's playing. He's still finding his way just like the rest of us are finding our way. He's scored the ball well for us, he's rebounded the ball fairly well for us and he's done a nice job facilitating."
-- Mark Medina
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