Last season was an incredibly uncomfortable one for Pau Gasol in Los Angeles. He had to deal with a new teammate that played the same position he did, a new system that wasn't introduced until five regular-season games had already passed and a rocky relationship with new head coach Mike D'Antoni. Tack on the chronic pain in his knees and feet to boot, and the skilled Spaniard dealt with issues he'd never experienced before.
But now, Dwight Howard is gone, and the politics in play that caused D'Antoni to coach against his natural tendencies are no longer an issue. At least that's what the coach said. From Sam Amick at USA Today:
"It was very uncomfortable," D'Antoni said about the Howard-Gasol dynamic last season. "I knew I was messing on (Gasol) last year. That's not fair to him. But that was the situation we were in. How do we make the best of it? I was just trying to make the best of it. But no, it wasn't fair to him.
"I think it was all (politics). It was all that. We wouldn't do that (normally). If nobody had names on their jerseys, and we were just playing? You go through Pau. There's not a question. No question."
With Kobe Bryant out of the lineup for the foreseeable future as he recovers from his Achilles injury, more responsibility has been thrust upon Gasol's shoulders from the get-go. And this time around, the paint belongs to him.
Still, he must demonstrate that he's healthy and capable of carrying a team again, even if it's only a short-term necessity. Because of this, it was imperative that he found a cure for what ailed him last season.
The May 9 "FAST technique" procedure may have been minimally invasive, but it left him in crutches and - because of its newness in the medical community - unsure whether it would work. Stem cells were taken from his pelvis and injected into his knees to replace the damaged tissue that had been removed. Ultrasound wavelengths were aimed at his tendons in order to debride the damage in there too. Gasol said the procedure had only been performed 20 times when he decided to become the 21st, but it was far more attractive than the alternative.
The Lakers' roster is full of new faces and inexperienced role players, so the presence of Gasol is crucial for the duration of Bryant's absence. More and more players are taking advantage of the advances in medicine, and in most cases it has paid off in the long run.
The future is uncertain in Los Angeles with the transitional state of the Lakers' lineup and the Kobe injury, but if Gasol is indeed a healthier form of himself, that would mean wonders for both Pau and the team.