After trade rumors swirled around Pau Gasol last season, he's happy to still be in a Lakers uniform.
By RAHSHAUN HAYLOCKFS West
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Los Angeles was ready to erupt into fireworks. After all, it was July 4th when news broke the Lakers were on the verge of acquiring Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade.
Mike Brown was oh, so happy.
Lakers fans everywhere were ecstatic. Suns fans were not.
Neither was Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl, who admitted to the Denver Post on Monday he was "really upset" when he learned Nash was headed to the Lakers over the summer.
Pau Gasol, on the other hand, was hesitant to be happy. A constant subject of trade rumors, Gasol wasn't sure he wasn't going to be next in a deal involving the Lakers.
"I was excited to get Steve but then I couldn't get too excited," said Gasol, who's entering his 5th full season with the Lakers. "In this business you can't get too excited, pretty much, at any time."
Like, before the start of last season when Gasol was sent away in a trade allowing the Lakers to acquire point guard Chris Paul, only to be overturned by the NBA for "basketball reasons."
Gasol's name was mentioned throughout the first half of the season in possible trades, including rumors that had him as a potential piece to acquire his current teammate Dwight Howard in Orlando or even landing in Chicago.
The rumors took a toll on Gasol and prompted Kobe Bryant to stand up in his defense, adamantly asking management to show their hand.
"It's just tough for a player to give his all when you don't know if you're going to be here tomorrow," Bryant said following a loss at Phoenix last February. "I'd rather them not trade him at all. If they're going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it. If they're not going to do it, come out and say you're not going to do it."
Once the trade deadline passed and Gasol was still in the Purple and Gold, there was some solace to be taken until his name reappeared over the summer.
In the end it was the Lakers adding Nash and Howard with Gasol staying.
"I was sad to see Andrew (Bynum) go because he's a good friend," Gasol said. "He's been a great teammate but I was happy to have Dwight on board and me to remain.
"(I'm) very happy. Very excited. This offseason was uncertain. I'm happy to be here just like every single day that I've been here."
Gasol's field goal percentage of 50.1 percent last season was his lowest in a Lakers uniform, due in part to the career-high 27 three-point attempts he took. He made seven of them. His 17.4 points per game last season were a career low, barely. Yet, he averaged a double-double for just the third time in his career -- all with the Lakers.
During the summer, he nearly single-handedly lifted Spain over Team USA in the gold medal game at the Olympics. In the end, Bryant defeated him for the second time in an Olympic gold medal game, but is happy to be reunited with his teammate once more.
"I'm very excited to have him (back)," Bryant said. "I'm happy that he's here. I think it was a very, very, smart decision by management to keep him. The respect that he has around his peers around the league is something that a lot of people don't know."
Added Howard, "Pau is respected. He's Pau Gasol. He's a legend."
He now provides the Lakers with a key component in their transformation to the Princeton Offense - a big man, who is a skilled passer.
Known for his high basketball IQ, he's thought of to be the one that will mesh with Nash the easiest.
"I look forward to playing along with Steve and be the receiver of some of his dishes," Gasol said. "He's a point guard that understands the game, facilitates a lot of things and gets easy baskets for everyone."
For the first time in a long time basketball can be at the forefront of his thoughts and not whether he'll be in a Lakers uniform or not.
"It makes it a lot easier," he said. "Once you have less distractions to worry about you can do your job better so that'll be good."