It's been a roller-coaster stretch for the 36-year old. First, a quick recap:
Gasol started at center in his first 38 appearances with the Lakers this season. Last week, he returned from a draining bout with COVID-19 (which infected his entire household) just in time to see his role dramatically diminished with the signing of Andre Drummond.
The long-awaited addition of Drummond followed a month of speculation that L.A. was seeking frontcourt upgrades and may not be totally satisfied with Gasol's production
Over the past few days, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has repeatedly stated that Gasol remains a vital part of the team. That insistence may be genuine, but Gasol (4.8 points, 3.9 rebounds) has undeniably been demoted in favor of Drummond (17 PPG, 13 RPG).
Then, in the second half of Wednesday's contest vs. the Milwaukee Bucks, Gasol was thrust into action after Drummond lost a toenail early into his debut. The Big Spaniard played well in relief, but the Lakers were outclassed.
On Friday, with Drummond home nursing his right big toe, Gasol was back in the starting five. He responded with one of his best all-around performances of the year, helping lead the short-handed Lakers (31-18) to a solid 115-94 win over the Sacramento Kings (22-27).
Gasol had five points, six assists, and nine rebounds for a +20 in 28 minutes. His defense was sturdy — both his rim protection and his help on the Kings slashing backcourt of De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield.
The bigs are in sync. pic.twitter.com/ldqktJp1ie
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 3, 2021
Following the win, Gasol spoke to the media for the first time since Drummond was signed. Despite a successful night in Sac-Town, the former Defensive Player of the Year's demeanor was more sour than sweet.
“The way it looks,” a visibly frustrated Gasol said when asked to describe his week. “Things get thrown at you and you have to adapt as quick as possible. And as you can imagine [sigh], it is what it is.”
Gasol was then asked if he wanted to remain with the Lakers. He paused, seemingly to consider his words before answering.
“Things can change quickly in the NBA, just as they have changed for me. But I’m committed to this team. It’s a hard pill to swallow because I know I’m going to be out of the lineup at some point. It’s never easy on a player…But, we’ll see.”
Since Drummond came aboard, Vogel has attempted to prop up Gasol's importance to the Lakers.
In his postgame comments moments after Gasol's ominous media session, Vogel shouted out the center's underrated two-way contributions after Gasol anchored one of the team's best collective defense efforts in a while.
“I think people need to understand how good of a player Marc Gasol is and how important he is to what we’re doing,” Vogel said, passionately.”He dominated the game tonight with 5 points…He’s a dominant defensive big.”
Sacramento shot 42.4% from the field, and L.A. dominated the rebounding battle, 54-38.
Marc Gasol is a beloved member of the locker room. He's a reliable option in certain matchups, and, when he plays as he did against the Kings, his multi-faceted value is on full display. As per usual, his defensive metrics are more impressive than the eye test.
“That’s still gonna be the mindset for him every night: to be available and ready,” Vogel said pregame. “He’s one of our better players…If we need to him play, we’re gonna throw him in there…It’s just a testament to Marc’s character.”
Vogel cited the Utah Jazz as a matchup in which Gasol may come in handy, as the 35.4% three-point shooter could theoretically pull Rudy Gobert away from the basket. Vogel said he still wants to see Gasol man the frontcourt in a lineup alongside Montrezl Harrell.
There will be spots to contribute, but Gasol knows he'll spend most of the remainder of 2020-21 on the bench. Drummond turned down money to join the Lakers ahead of his free agency, and he did it with the full intention of starting. L.A. needs Harrell's scoring punch, and Davis will slide to play the 5 for chunks of playoff games.
Gasol isn't an idiot. He knows that one solid outing against the Kings isn't going to shift the tides and that he only started because of a fluke injury to Drummond.
The organization has no reason to initiate a buyout with Gasol. He has one year left on his minimum deal, so any cash saved in a parting agreement won't be reflected in the upcoming luxury tax bill. Plus, the Lakers can't find an available player on the market as seasoned, dependable, or up-to-speed with the system as Gasol.
If the Spaniard asks out, though, the Lakers will probably have to cut him a check and honor his request. Considering all Gasol has dealt with over the past month — on and off the court — one can't blame him for stepping away.
Vogel hopes Gasol sticks around for the playoff push.
“He’s going to help us win a championship this year. That’s the plan, that’s the vision,” the coach said. “Marc’s one of our most important players…We all just need to recognize how important he is to what we’re trying to do here…We’re excited about what he’s going to do for us down the stretch.”
For now, Marc Gasol remains a Laker.
“It’s not easy, but it’s life, you have to adapt,” the proud veteran center said. “Either you take it as a challenge, or you move on.”