How Pau Gasol Is Proving Doubters Wrong, Showing Why Lakers Desperately Need Him

The Los Angeles Lakers have been fortunate—to say the least—to employ a slew of supremely skilled seven-footers over the course of their storied history. The ceremony to retire Shaquille O'Neal's jersey to the Staples Center rafters on April 2 served to remind the NBA of that long-standing tradition, with the Big Diesel's No. 34 taking its rightful place alongside those of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But the profusion of praise that was (rightfully) lavished upon Shaq from all corners stood in rather stark contrast to the tepid support so often shown to another gifted giant who added two Larry O'Brien Trophies to the Buss Family's extensive collection and who still wears the Purple and Gold.

I'm speaking, of course, about Pau Gasol.

In the game that bookended O'Neal's nostalgic romp at mid-court, Gasol put forth one of the finest performances of what's been an exceptionally trying 2012-13 season for him. He scored 14 points (albeit on a middling 6-of-13 shooting), grabbed 10 rebounds and assisted on six baskets in 35 minutes during the Lakers' crucial 101-81 win over the hard-charging Dallas Mavericks. He also played a pivotal role in the team-wide effort to limit Dirk Nowitzki to 11 points on 4-of-13 from the field.

But even that all-around effectiveness left Gasol as no better than third on LA's totem pole of attention. Kobe Bryant stole the show with a triple-double. Dwight Howard was hacked to (almost) no end in the fourth quarter and wound up with 24 points and 12 rebounds of his own. Both Bryant and Howard were granted additional limelight for their adversarial connections to Shaq.

Gasol, on the other hand, is no hero, and he is certainly far from anyone's villainous rival. He's "just" a really tall guy who plays basketball—and an exceptionally smart and talented one, at that.

That's been all too easy to forget amidst this most chaotic of...

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