The Los Angeles Lakers' roster took a big hit when Pau Gasol partially tore the plantar fascia in his foot, which means he will be out for at least six weeks and, if he elects for surgery, he could be out for 12. An MRI in Los Angeles will determine how severe the injury is, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. Perhaps more than anything, the Lakers, who are still three games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, lost whatever flexibility they had left.
Despite the Lakers front office's insistence, Gasol's name has been among the most prominent in NBA trade discussions. He's on contract through 2014, can (presumably) still play at an All-Star level and is an unselfish big men, which is the type of player that tends to fit in well on a new team, as we've seen before from Gasol the first time he was traded.
This injury, at a minimum, will keep him out until March 20, just a few weeks before the end of the regular season. Because of Gasol's age, 32, and his size, it's far from a guarantee that he'll be back to full strength right at the six-week mark. More realistically, seven or eight weeks puts it awfully close to April. After that, he's still an aging big man with a bum wheel who hasn't played high-level basketball for nearly two years. That's not a situation teams like to trade into, especially when he's owed more than $19 million in 2013-2014.
So, essentially, the Lakers have lost the ability to trade him. The Lakers could sign Kenyon Martin, but as Ben at Silver Screen and Roll points out, K-Mart would want to sign for the rest of the season and the Lakers wouldn't want to lose that sort of flexibility. That means a 10-day contract for a D-League player with the hope something magically sticks.
The current roster is a disaster in the frontcourt. Jordan Hill was the first Laker big to go down when he suffered a hip injury that ended his season. Dwight Howard has missed the Lakers' last three games with a torn labrum in his shoulder, and there's no word on when he'll be back or how effective he'll be. That leaves Robert Sacre as the lone center-capable player on the roster, and he's way better at being on the bench than he is at coming off it.
So what does this mean on the court? Interestingly enough, it doesn't have to spell doom. Mike D'Antoni's offense didn't work with two centers on the court, but now they finally have personnel that can fit his ideal system. Earl Clark has won the hearts of Laker fans, and he can fill the Amar'e Stoudemire, pick-and-roll big who can space the floor with his jump-shooting. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant can be the distributors while Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and others can find open shots. This can work.
The Lakers want to do more than just get by, though. They have serious ground to make up, and the teams ahead of them — the Rockets and Blazers — are healthy and young. It's reasonable to think that they will continue to improve as the season goes along with James Harden and Jeremy Lin playing better together and Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge working on their chemistry.
The Lakers need to excel, and without Gasol and Howard, their roster doesn't appear capable of that. Howard needs to come back, and come back fast. Even though Gasol has served as Laker fans' whipping boy all year long, they're probably going to find out just how much they miss him very soon.