Worn down by trade rumors, limited by injuries—he suffered a concussion, tendinitis in both knees and a torn plantar facsia in his right foot—and unable to coexist alongside big man Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol endured a nightmarish 2012--13 season. He averaged the fewest points (13.7) in his career and his field goal percentage dipped below 50% for just the second time. Now Howard has departed—and any thoughts of trading Gasol are gone with him. With Kobe Bryant out for the immediate future with a torn Achilles and Steve Nash pushing 40, Gasol is suddenly the Lakers' most reliable offensive option.
Mike D'Antoni has already tabbed Gasol, 33, as his starting center ("The best in the league," D'Antoni says, optimistically) and will get him plenty of touches. Consider: In L.A.'s preseason opener Gasol jacked up 13 shots in 23 minutes—a 62% increase over his average of 12.6 shots per 36 minutes last season. A procedure that involved injecting stem cells from Gasol's back and hips into his knees has alleviated the pain, and a rare summer off from the Spanish national team has him feeling refreshed. While D'Antoni still wants to see Gasol springing Nash with high screens, he has sanctioned Gasol's desire to operate more from the post. On a team with so few scorers, a productive Gasol is the only way the Lakers can remain competitive until Bryant makes it all the way back.
COACH MIKE D'ANTONI (2ND SEASON WITH LAKERS)
2012--13 RECORD 45--37 (3RD IN PACIFIC)
WHAT'S NEW Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace are out, free agents Chris Kaman and Nick Young are in.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG STEVE NASH
12.7 PPG; 6.7 APG; 49.7 FG%; 43.8 3FG%
SG KOBE BRYANT
27.3 PPG; 6.0 APG; 46.3 FG%; 32.4 3FG%
SF NICK YOUNG
10.6 PPG; 2.2 RPG; 41.3 FG%; 35.7 3FG%
PF JORDAN HILL
6.7 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 0.7 BPG; 49.7 FG%
C PAU GASOL
13.7 PPG; 8.6 RPG; 4.1 APG; 46.6 FG%
SG JODIE MEEKS
7.9 PPG; 2.2 RPG; 38.7 FG%; 35.7 3FG%
THE LAKERS' free throw percentage last season, when they became just the second team in 38 years to finish last in shooting from the stripe while leading the league in attempts (2,289).
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE LAKERS
Losing Dwight [Howard] is going to make it easier for Mike D'Antoni. He wants to space the floor and shoot threes, he wants to run. To have two bigs in Pau Gasol and Dwight just doesn't work.... They lose something defensively without Dwight, but let's face it, D'Antoni doesn't coach defense. He doesn't even talk about it. Mike has never adjusted his system much on any team, but if you don't throw the ball in to Pau on the post, you are wasting his time, and you should be fired.... They are going to plant Jodie Meeks and Nick Young around the arc and have them launching threes off Nash rolls. They have no choice. You can't look at this roster and say it is anything but bad. Then when Kobe Bryant gets back, he will pick points during the game to play isolation.... With the Achilles injury hurting his explosiveness, Kobe will probably play a lot out of the post. And the last thing to come back is defense, particularly the slides and backpedals.... I thought that when they signed Steve Nash, they were going to play him more as a space three-point shooter. Now they don't have any other option but to have him be the main guy and have the ball.... Young is going to hit four in a row one game and be a disaster the next.... If Wesley Johnson isn't making shots, he literally does nothing for you. He doesn't defend, doesn't pass, doesn't rebound. If he is not successful in this system, he might as well go to Europe.... Jordan Hill gave them a lot of energy last season, but I'm just not a fan. An average shooter can look like a good shooter in D'Antoni's system, and that's what Hill did.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED