Do L.A. Lakers Need Pau Gasol to Be an All-Star or Role Player?

With power forward Pau Gasol fully recovered from a torn plantar fascia, Mike D'Antoni now has the unenviable task of integrating the four-time All-Star back into the Los Angeles Lakers' rotation.

Fortunately for D'Antoni, he doesn't need his 7'0" center to play the role of savior. The Lakers went 13-7 during Gasol's absence, and the team broke the century mark in scoring 12 times over that stretch. Earl Clark did an admirable job holding down the power forward spot (he averaged 8.5 PPG and 6.4 RPG while starting in place of Gasol) and an even more impressive job of staying out of Kobe Bryant's way.

Clark is little more than a role player, however. Dwight Howard is the star of the Lakers frontcourt, and the 27-year-old center is finally starting to resemble the player who the team traded for this past summer. Howard averaged 16.3 points and 13.8 rebounds while Gasol was on the shelf and appears to be more at home on offense than he was at the start of the season.

Much like Howard, Steve Nash is slowly getting accustomed to his niche in D'Antoni's system. Instead of initiating the Lakers' offense, Nash now allows Bryant to handle most of the ball-handling responsibilities. These days, Nash is more of a spot-up shooter than a textbook point guard—the 39-year-old playmaker has finished with 10 or more assists in a game just three times over the past two months.

To refer to Bryant as the Lakers' "point guard" would be a bit of a stretch, but most of the team's offensive plays start with the ball in his hands (many of them end the same way as well). In his last seven games (he missed two contests recently with a sprained ankle), Bryant has tallied eight or more assists on five times.

So with Howard assuming the role of the traditional big man, and with Bryant and Nash essentially switching positions, what does this all mean for Gasol? For starters, now that he's no longer burdened by being the Lakers' prim...

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