This appears in the Monday, January 6, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.
Lack of respect
by rick olivares pic by andrew bernstein/nba/getty
If I were Pau Gasol I’d follow Dino Radja’s lead -- leave the NBA and go on finish his basketball career in Europe.
The 6’11” Radja, who was a part of the greatest generation of basketball players from the last united Yugoslavian team, only scratched the surface of his potential in his short NBA stint (four seasons). After signing what he thought was a contract extension with the Boston Celtics, the Croat was surprised when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Only he never suited up for Philly as he failed his physical.
The medical report said that his knee was damaged and maybe for good thus leaving the Sixers no choice but to put the kibosh on the trade. Boston with then head coach Rick Pitino not having any room for Radja in his plans opted to buy out his contract. The experience left the Croat bitter. He went on to prove the NBA teams wrong as he played a few more seasons in Europe where he led Panathinaikos to a pair of titles before finishing his career with his first club, KK Split where they won a championship.
Gasol on the other hand is like Scottie Pippen, who despite his contributions to his team, is the subject of trade discussions year after year. For the nth time, the Spaniard’s name is floated around as trade bait. He should take a cue as well from Ray Allen and try to secure a contract where he can shape his own destiny.
I have no idea why teams are upset that he cannot be more physical in the paint. He may stand seven feet tall but he is not your garden variety Shaq center. Sure he can play the slot but he is more at home at the four or even sometimes at the three-spot. He is just so darn tall. It’s a European thing.
However, that’s the problem with tall players. The Chicago Bulls kept trying to play Toni Kukoc at the four spot when he is a natural three or even a point guard. It’s playing him at the wrong position.
Even locally, we tend to think that someone of tall height should play center.
The Los Angeles Lakers already had Andrew Bynum to take over Shaquille O’Neal’s position with Gasol playing the four (occasionally the center spot), and they had to let the former go.
Sure, there are salary concerns with Bynum who was – shades of Dino Radja – traded to the 76ers where he didn’t play at all due to injuries. He was sent to Cleveland where now he is being packaged for a trade to his old team for Gasol.
Aside from the snags on the trade due to the particulars, it looks like Gasol, a three-time All-Star in Los Angeles purple and gold, will remain a Laker – for now.
We can all argue that professional sports is a business. But successful business are also based on relationships. Gasol has been a proud Laker for all of previous coach Phil Jackson’s musings that he was soft. Hell, that’s what he said of Toni Kukoc. But no way will the Bulls win three straight without the Croat changing (not willingly though) his game for Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to get their touches.
But the damage has been done to Gasol. He knows he isn’t wanted by his current team that only keep him because the chips aren’t in their favor. The system run by Mike D’Antoni isn’t a fit for him and his confidence has taken a savage beating.
But that really says something about this current Lakers team. The team is still a desired destination for many a player (along with Phoenix) but under Jim Buss, the son of the late Dr. Jerry Buss, there is a change in the dynamic. Sort of reminds me of the New York Yankees under Hal and Hank Steinbrenner who took over from their father, George who has passed away.
The Lakers are currently at 14-19 and are way outside the playoff picture. In the previous year, they finished third in the Pacific Division. It wasn’t only the division crown they surrendered but they did so to the Clippers who have become supplanted the Lakers as Pacific Division champions. The Clips, that underwent a manpower development, also swept the season series against the Lakers.
The word is now that it is a matter of time before the two former teammates trade places.
If I were Gasol, I have really nothing left to prove to the NBA. After the current season is done, maybe it’s time to move to Europe where there’s even bigger money and a better appreciation for an athlete. Furthermore, it’s a whole lot closer to his home that is Barcelona.
Unlike Radja who only had a modicum of success in America, Gasol is a bonafide hit who will go down as one of the best Europeans to play in the NBA. He will also be bound for the Basketball Hall of Fame. You can take that to the bank.
Pau Gasol was long a team player. Maybe now it’s time to look out for himself.