He’s a four-time NBA All-Star and may be a future Hall of Famer. But at age 33 and despite an impressive resume, Pau Gasol has a lot to prove.
Not to the world. To himself.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ 7-foot center-forward had a disappointing year in 2012-13. He averaged a career-low 13.7 points and the Lakers were a first-round casualty. Worse, his knees were aching like never before, thus hindering his ability to perform.
But Gasol is determined to to show everyone he’s not finished. He had surgery on both knees in May to alleviate the tendonosis that has plagued him the past couple of years and he said he’s much better physically.
“Hopefully, it will extend my career,” said Gasol, a 13-year-veteran and career 18.4 scorer who is in town with the Lakers’ annual visit to Las Vegas for tonight’s NBA preseason game against Sacramento at the MGM Grand Garden. “The last couple of years have been tough.”
Not just physically, but mentally taxing too. He had been the subject of trade rumors, first while Andrew Bynum was a Laker, then with Dwight Howard. Gasol admitted the speculation wore on him but he’s still in L.A. while both Bynum and Howard have moved on.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said of dealing with rumors. “It was a good test for me to go through it as an athlete and as a human being. I tried not to get too rattled but it was a challenge and I learned from it.”
One way Gasol fought back against the rumor mill was through social media. Through Facebook and Twitter, he was able to disseminate factual information to his followers and control the message. It’s something more athletes are doing and Gasol thinks it’s a good idea.
“Once I realized how powerful those social networks have become, I embraced them,” he said. “You can control your thoughts and your message while interacting with your fans. It’s like you’re your own media outlet.”
With Howard gone to Houston, Gasol will see a lot action at center and will work in tandem with veteran Chris Kaman, who moved across the hall at the Staples Center from the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room. Gasol believes the two will work well together and along with Steve Nash, keep things competitive until Kobe Bryant returns sometime in December. Bryant is recovering from Achilles’ tendon surgery.
“He’s a very good player and I think our games will fit together nicely,” Gasol said of Kaman. “We can both play inside and outside and that gives us a lot of flexibility.”
That’s exactly what Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has in mind in getting Gasol back on track.
“We’re looking to at using Pau in different ways depending on the matchup,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll be a key to whatever we do.”
D’Antoni said he believes Gasol still has something left.
“I’ve always been impressed with his intelligence,” he said. “It’s off the charts. He’s one of the rare breed of players who can play anywhere on the floor. If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt he can be a dominant player in this league.”
But will his knees hold up? Gasol underwent a procedure that took stem cells out of his back and were injected through the tendons of his knees. It’s called FAST (Focused Aspiration of Scar Tissue) and the recovery time is longer than typical arthroscopic surgery.
“It was painful at first,” Gasol said. “It was a new technique and I wasn’t sure whether it would work. But I decided to try it and so far, so good. I’m definitely feeling better than I have in a while. We’ll have to see how it goes.”
There’s a bigger picture for Gasol beyond the Lakers. Spain hosts the World Cup of Basketball next summer and Gasol wants to be ready to play for his country where the gold-medal winner gets an automatic bid into the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
“I hope to play; that’s the plan,” he said. “But that’s a long ways away. Right now, I’m focusing on getting ready for opening night with the Lakers.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.