Maybe Kobe Isn't the Lakers' MVP

"Can I be the MVP instead of you?" (AP photo)

Maybe. I'm just saying. I'm just saying maybe.

Before you shoot your hate comments defending Kobe, I want you to know that I am not by any means a Kobe hater. I am, in fact, the biggest fan of him. And I'm not just saying that to ingratiate myself with Kobe fans and for you to not hit me that hard with that proverbial stone. You know how the biggest Kobe supporters say they are truthfully the biggest fans of Kobe? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

So, if you are looking to dismiss or refute this article, you're wasting your time as you are preaching to a member of the choir. I realize too that I'll be dealing with the conundrum similar to the thought "Never explain yourself. Your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe you anyway."

You see, among the hundreds of criteria conjured or trumped up to determine the rightful "MVP", one of the most significant and popular is the rhetoric that goes something like this: "Take this player out of this team and see what happens."

It's supposed to determine the "value" of a player, and the most "valuable" should be the MVP.

We don't know how the team in question, the Los Angeles Lakers, would perform without the player in question, Kobe Bryant, but this season, we do with another player.

After the first third of the season completed its phase, the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports" ESPN had someone recognize the MVP of the western conference so far —and it's from the Lakers.

It's just not Kobe Bryant.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's Pau Gasol.

Coming in to their rematch game against the Cleveland Cavaliers to kick-start their eight-game road tour, the Lakers sported a 32-9 record. Their record with Gasol? A dominating 21-3. Their record without Gasol? 11-6. Not bad, but still, not good enough.

Not good enough for the championship, it would seem.

I realize that Gasol would make this argument, if you may call it that, bad after their falling out against the Cavs. Gasol was partially blocked by a hand and the back board for a shot attempt with under a minute left in the fourth quarter of their match, then rebounded it only to not come up strong enough for his shot to have a fighting chance. 

Then, he missed two free throws later for being fouled with about 24 seconds remaining. Those two freebies would have tied the game, it was a juncture.

Gasol, with an 86% free throw shooting percentage, missed two in the crucial stages.

Bryant's more reliable than that, one would say. Sure he is. Gasol doesn't have Bryant's position on the team because he doesn't have the aggressiveness and the killer instinct of Bryant. No one does. Especially in the clutch.

But it is without question that the Lakers are a much better team with the presence of Gasol. Disregard that Cavalier game, Gasol was absent in that game.

The tougher question would be: are the Lakers better without Gasol or without Bryant? Bryant doesn't take absences from games. He's always present.

But could the problem be that he is too present ? We can't measure how good would the Lakers be without Bryant, but that actually is kind of the problem.

He doesn't take rest days from work if he can help it. He's nursing a back in pain, a broken finger, and a hurt elbow.

On one hand, it's laudable. It always is. Because we have been used to Kobe shrugging off nagging injuries like this, we tend to forget it when it should not be understated. It seems no one has the right to tell him to not play .

But his recent struggles can't be overstated. He has shot an abysmal 66-for-179 in the Lakers' last eight games, where they had gone 5-3. He had shooting games of 10 out of 30 (in the loss against the Clippers), 14 out of a ridiculous 37 (in another loss to the Blazers), 4/21 against Milwaukee, 4/19 versus Orlando, and took 31 shots to get to 31 points (only 12 made) in this loss to the Cavaliers.

Somehow, I feel that those two losses at the beginning of the eight string could have been avoided with Gasol on the line-up. Upon Gasol's return they beat up on the Clips by 40 points, and take their game against the Magic; would they win that without Gasol? With the way they are playing right now, don't think so.

Gasol had a steady 17 point, 10 rebound output in that game while performing efficiently on the field making 8 out of 14 field goals (57 percent, against Bryant's horrible 21 percent outing).

Maybe it's the kind of steadiness and efficiency that the Lakers should have adopted to win against the Cavaliers, instead of Bryant forcing up shots most of the time when his form is not yet 100 percent.

That also means letting the Spaniard have his stamp on the game and control of the ball. Gasol has always been effective, but his impact on the Laker games aren't as pronounced and profound as Bryant's.

But maybe—just maybe—Pau Gasol is more valuable to the least right now.

It doesn't pain me to say that. I'm a fan of the team more than a fan of the player. I love Kobe, but maybe it's time to give credit where credit is due (and criticism where criticism is due).

I'm not suggesting we should decide if Lakers would be better off without Gasol or without Bryant. That's silly. With a Bryant signature, the duo could contractually be sharing the court with the Lakers until 2014. The Lakers would be better off with both of them.

Still, I'm comfortable with the idea that Gasol might be the MVP of the Lakers. For those who feel that Gasol would never contend for an actual MVP award, I hope you change your mind. Maybe someday, down the line.

Among the maybes here, the fact the he is valuable to his team is a certain. Gasol may not need the individual trophy, but the Lakers need him for the championship trophies.

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