Olympics Basketball 2012: Pau Gasol Makes a Case for a Different Trade

Pau Gasol marched into London’s Olympic Stadium on Friday night hoisting his country’s flag and ferrying its expectation of a basketball podium finish on his back.

The Spaniards arrived at the global apogee of hoops tournaments with devastating cohesion, interior capaciousness and depth—even with an ACL tear sidelining Ricky Rubio and injuries limiting the explosiveness of Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez—that towers over every other nation in these Olympics except the United States.

Anything less than a silver medal should qualify as a disappointment for a team with a menacing, domineering frontline that would look massive in an NBA where the Miami Heat just re-imagined the championship blueprint, often operating with no true center and no seven-footer.

LeBron James, the human freight train, made it all possible for undersized Miami. The self-proclaimed King is doing it again for the favored Americans.

Yet across the pond, with a worldwide audience watching, after James led Team USA’s 28-point thrashing of France, Gasol posted 21 points and 11 rebounds for Spain in a 16-point victory against China where size mattered.

His brother, Marc, became an All-Star and a mammoth matchup problem for Memphis Grizzlies’ opponents. The younger brother even swished one of his signature feet-bolted-to-the-floor jumpers.

Spain’s opening triumph versus the Chinese remained too close for comfort until the fourth quarter. Rubio’s absence deprives the squad of its best ball hawker and maybe its best overall perimeter defender. A healthy La Pistola could have made more of a difference when a trio of guards decided to spray the Spanish giants with contested jumpers.

Yi Jianlian led with authority and athleticism as he rarely has in the pros, tallying 30 points and 12 rebounds.

Yet as much as a dynamic bench, a cadre of NBA-level...

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