How Pau Gasol Is Transforming into LA Lakers’ Most Critical Player

Come on, admit it. You were ready to toss Pau Gasol onto the scrap heap of worn-out, used-up NBA has-beens, weren't you?

But now, if you count yourself among the Los Angeles Lakers faithful, there simply isn't any room on all the bandwagons driving around Southern California proclaiming "Te queremos, Pau Gasol" and "Pau Gasol For Mayor."

While Kobe Bryant props his leg up on the living room ottoman at his Newport Beach home, iPhone at the ready, Pau Gasol goes to work at Staples Center with one intense directive from his brother-in-arms: take control, you're in charge now.

We won't see Bryant back on the court before November at the earliest, but we know that Gasol will be pounding away for points, passes and rebounds for at least another week or two, thanks to his All-Star-caliber play of late.

Gasol's 2012-13 season reads like an American sports version of a very famous Charles Dickens novel. 

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."

You get the picture. The Pau Gasol who enters the playoffs with his teammates has looked more like the All-Star who helped Bryant and the Lakers win back-to-back NBA championships in 2009 and 2010. 

His right foot may still be hurting from a torn plantar fascia that sidelined him for 20 games, but Gasol is playing as if he's auditioning with the Lakers for a return performance next fall. At the same time, his $19 million salary for next season suddenly seems palatable to teams like the Knicks or Celtics.

While virtually every pundit, including Vegas oddsmakers, gives the Lakers little chance of defeating the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the...

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