At this point, expecting Pau Gasol to do much more is like waiting for a cloud to rain maple syrup. You can put the pancake umbrella away, because it's not happening. With Lamar Odom flailing in Dallas and Andrew Bynum in the corner wearing a dunce cap, Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers desperately need Gasol to offer more on offense. It's not that Gasol does anything poorly or fails to play hard -- he's excellent in nearly every offensive facet and, contrary to the whines of some spoiled fans, does play tough and with effort. But he just doesn't have the ability to grow his role with the Lakers beyond what it has been, which is that of a supplementary piece, one of Kobe's shades.
On Monday against the Sacramento Kings, a team that's best when it's reckless, Gasol was completely under control and, as such, kept completely under control. Guarded by DeMarcus Cousins in the early going, Gasol deferred, hesitating to attack. Despite the amazing lack of depth for L.A., Gasol took just five shots in the first half. He opened it up a bit in the back half, scoring 13 on seven field goal attempts, but the damage was done: the Kings carried a substantial lead much of the way, and the Lakers' comeback bid fell short. Kobe was searching, struggling with his shot in the first half and remaining muted (by Kobe's standard) in the second half. Still, Gasol wouldn't take the reins.
Again, there's no reason to expect or perhaps want Gasol to change at this point. The Lakers have needed more from their No. 2 player in the past, and haven't gotten it, so there's no point prodding at this point. No, the Lakers instead need to look elsewhere for a scorer to take the load off of Kobe and remain aggressive at all times. And that someone almost assuredly has to be Andrew Bynum.
Bynum is midway through a four-game suspension earned from a perfectly Andrew Bynum play against the Dallas Mavericks last spring; the tempestuous center flung a forearm into an airborne J.J. Barea in a fit of frustration. The play and resultant punishment offered some truth to the damning knock on Bynum: he's unreliable. That tag is usually hung on his knees, which have been a source of both missed games and concern. But his nasty temper has Bynum on the league's watch list, and that could keep him on a short leash as Mike Brown tries to ensure he keeps his best players available for the biggest moments.
Last season ended with Bynum almost demanding a larger role in the offense; Kobe basically brushed that off, reminding the center that there's a pecking order. That pecking order needs to be re-written the second Bynum is back. Unless Kobe wants to be running on fumes by February, he needs Bynum to step in and do what Gasol wouldn't on Monday in Sacramento: force the issue. Take the ball away from Kobe. Make him relinquish a little control on the offense.
Gasol is a smart, thoughtful player whose overriding instinct seems to be to make the right play. When making the right play involving moving the ball, and that ball ends up in the hands of a well-covered, injured, tired, aging Kobe, who is almost going to shoot no matter what ... maybe it's not the right play. Maybe the right play is to play a bit of keep-away from Kobe, and be more aggressive. Bynum has never had a problem being aggressive. If he touches the ball regularly, he will get shots up. They will largely be less efficient shots than what Gasol could get if so inclined, but they will be shots Kobe isn't taking. At this point, that could end up a blessing.
The greatest impact can't be in a single game, though. Bynum needs to convince Kobe to trust him ... even just a little. Bynum needs to make that aggression count. Kobe trusts Gasol and passes to him in big moments. He trusted Odom, too, and has complete faith in Derek Fisher. Bynum wasn't there as of last season -- the Lakers' playoff disaster was proof -- and only some more wins in the trenches of January, February and March can help build that relationship in time for the playoffs. Bryant needs to give Bynum some rope to convince him that he'll help the Lakers win by being the team's No. 2 option on offense, by taking some of Kobe's shots. And Bynum needs to cash the check and perform.
Otherwise, the Lakers are going to be stuck waiting for Pau to do something he's incapable of doing, while Kobe makes up the difference and runs himself -- and possibly the team -- into the ground in the process. It's no longer about Bynum's ability to wrest control from Bryant. It's about Kobe's willingness to accede.
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