“I mean, that’s definitely one of the factors that came into why I came here. Because I wanted to win. I’ve won a championship on every level except the NBA. It’s frustrating to have not gotten that in the first two years. But I still believe with this group of guys, we can still get it. That’s gonna be our goal coming into next year. Proving it. And getting that championship.”—Steve Blake
“I’m not fading into the shadows, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere. It’s not like when the Bulls beat the Pistons and they disappeared forever. I’m not going for that shit. Come hell or high water, we’re going to be there again.”—Kobe Bryant
And this shouldn’t be terribly surprising, since it feels these days like they barely share the same court. As this season progressed, the once-electric chemistry and byplay between Bryant and Gasol has increasingly gone the way of the Dodo Bird. They don’t work off each other with nearly the same frequency as the previous four seasons. This is in part a byproduct of Andrew Bynum’s increased prominence, which means more possessions beginning (and often ending) on the low left block. And the addition of Ramon Sessions, a ball-dominant guard while playing to his strengths. Plus, Gasol’s 2012 role, which either parks him in the high post as a general offensive conduit or an anchor for the reserves while Kobe rests.
All of these factors have emerged to practically transform Kobe and Pau into strangers. They’ll occasionally run pick-and-roll together — ironically, often as a means to ultimately to create lobs for Drew — but it’s just as likely, if not more, to see that action between Sessions and Pau or even Pau and Bynum. Bryant and Gasol barely feel like they complement each other any more. They’re no longer killing opponents with beautifully meshed skill sets. They’re arguably the best guard/big man duo since Kobe and Shaq, but you’d never know based on their current usage. This separation of stars is a huge reason, even beyond the inherent roster flaws, the Lakers haven’t been able to consistently maximize their assets this season. Even if you think Bynum has become a better player than Gasol, it’s nonetheless impossible to argue Kobe and Bynum play better together than Kobe and Gasol. And that ultimately leaves the Lakers wanting for more.
In the meantime, Kobe’s grown more publicly exasperated with Pau, further fueling the “Black swan-white swan/Gasoft” story lines that, beyond annoying Gasol to no end, illustrate in neon lights their stark differences in personality.
Their polar opposite natures, however, isn’t a problem. Truth be told, it’s actually a huge reason they’ve been able to flourish. To be blunt, Kobe ain’t the easiest dude to play with. He’s exceptionally demanding, doesn’t give a hoot about your feelings, and his presence can steamroll. That’s not to say he’s a bad teammate or leader. But those playing alongside Bryant adjust to him, not the other way around. And most All-Star caliber players aren’t big on adapting, even for one of the all-time greats. Gasol, however, will subvert his ego. (He actually does have one, by the way.) And Kobe is smart enough to recognize the rare asset he has in Pau. There may be nobody better suited to play Robin to his Batman. (Alfred? Not so much, unfortunately.)
In exchange, Kobe’s made Pau a better, tougher player by holding him to high standards. And frankly, Pau’s made Kobe better as well while serving as a highly skilled, highly intelligent safety valve.
The two have always reminded me of the basketball version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Like Lennon, Kobe possesses the more openly dark side, doesn’t suffer gladly those he considers fools, and has a very specific vision of his craft. Gasol is very “Paul,” with the sunnier persona, inherent “likability” and by (relative) comparison, is considered more lightweight. It’s often quite easy to tell whose hand was heavier while co-writing a particular Beatles song. But those differences were offset beautifully to create some of the best music ever recorded. Kobe and Pau may not have quite matched those heights together, but they were undoubtedly pretty impressive.
At their best, Bryant and Gasol played basketball like a couple who’ve been together so long, they can finish each other’s sentences. Watching them play was pure joy, and as a basketball fan (not to mention, a Laker fan), it’s gone terribly missed this season. For me, that’s the most disappointing element to this season and its inevitable conclusion.
Bryant’s postgame criticism was meant to make sure Gasol doesn’t make those mistakes again as the Lakers try to rally in this series. But even as Bryant attempts to push Gasol forward the rest of this season, it’s just as obvious that this season should be the last for this once-great partnership.
Bryant has tired to having to prop Gasol up time and again. Bryant did it often last season in pursuit of a third consecutive title on a bad knee and before Bynum was ready, offering the compelling Natalie Portman-inspired narrative that Gasol is too often the “white swan” instead of the “black swan.” Like the movie, it didn’t end well.
This season, Bryant has still believed that Gasol can come through when it matters most. Bryant’s public request that the Lakers stop dangling Gasol in the trade market was him believing Gasol needed that support to persevere. When I was comparing the very night before the March trade deadline the emerging Bynum and Bryant to the regular one-two punch of Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant, it was Bryant who digressed to say: “We still have Pau.”
Even though Gasol has been loyal and tried to stay invested in the Lakers after the aborted preseason trade for Chris Paul, it hasn’t been the same. And effective or not, no matter how much unwavering respect he has for Bryant, Gasol has also developed his own pocket of resentment for all of Kobe’s high horsing, fire breathing and string pulling in recent years.
What do you think Laker fans? Is it the end? Has the mix of talent as Kevin Ding writes, gone sour? Is it time to bring in some new players and trade Pau or do these group of guys have one more run in them next season? Chime in below or in the Comments!
You guys sent in a bunch of questions following my Thank You KCAL post, so I decided to answer them all at one time. Here they are:
Anonymous asked: Are Stu Lantz & Bill McDonald still going to be the announcers?
I would believe so.
Anonymous asked: So the Lakers have their own network on Time Warner Cable? Can anyone in the US watch it or is just in the Pacific area?
I believe it’s a regional sports channel, so only those in the Pacifica area will be able to view it
Anonymous asked: Will their network be on fios or direct tv or dish network? Anonymous asked: so only on their own network and disney channels? so will lakers play on Direct TV as well? or just comcast?
I think the Lakers are working it out right now with other cable networks to try and make the games available for those networks as well. So far, a deal has yet to be reached though.
Anonymous asked: I’m not from So. Cal, so unfortunately, I don’t really understand the whole FSW or KCAL9 thing. Does this mean the Laker games won’t be shown on tv anymore in LA?
The games will be on television, but just on the Lakers new channel on Time Warner Cable. This means the Lakers will no longer be shown on public television (KCAL9) or on Fox Sports West.
feb-rua-ry asked: How do you know the games won’t be broadcasted on FSW, either?
It says so in the contract they made with Time Warner Cable
Anonymous asked: so if i don’t have time warner, will i still be able to watch the lakers?
Sorry you are our of luck aside from the Laker games that will be on ABC. Your best option then would be to find sites streaming the Lakers game online. Buying NBA League Pass won’t work either, since you’re in the region in which Lakers games are broadcasted on TV you would be blocked out.
thejennytsai asked: You said Game 3 of the Lakers and Denver game was gonna be the last time KCAL would broadcast Lakers game. Was that a typo? Because it was aired on KCAL tonight (game 4) or did you mean Lakers won 3 games? Just wondering. :) But it does suck that it won’t be on KCAL next season. fyl for those who dont have cable :((
I meant game 4, thanks. Though I wasn’t expecting this series to go Game 6. That was my mistake, but game 6 was officially the last game on KCAL. Sad to see it go.
summer-streetlights asked: Kcal will no longer be broadcasting Laker games right? What about Fox Sports West? The game is on there tonight…? Will they keep their commentators? I love themmm.
After this first round series is over the Laker games will no longer be broadcasted on KCAL/FSW. It is officially the end.
If I provided any incorrect information and you know it is incorrect, please let me know and I will make changes where necessary. Wikipedia also has some information on the new Lakers channel. That information can be found here if you have any lingering questions. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if need be. This change really stinks, but will bring in more revenue for the Lakers and unfortunately that’s the name of the game. Money talks.