As the Lakers started 6’7 two-way contract player Devontae Cacok at center and brought the 6’8 Montrezl Harrell off the bench against the Pelicans in New Orleans, normal starter Marc Gasol could be seen on the sidelines for the team. He has cleared quarantine and is able to be around the Lakers after missing 18 days in the NBA’s intentionally vague COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but is still working on his conditioning on the floor before games to get ready for a return to action.
So no matter how much the Lakers could use another big with Anthony Davis also out, Damian Jones’ second 10-day contract expired and lacking any other seven-footers as a result, the organization is being cautious with Gasol, who has not played in an NBA games since Feb. 28, more than three weeks ago.
Head coach Frank Vogel said on Sunday that Gasol would miss “a couple more games,” and the latest absence came against the Pelicans, who bullied the undersized Lakers inside to score 62 points in the paint. But after the loss, Vogel held firm, and again offered no estimate on when Gasol will be back.
“That’s on the medical team to keep working with him on building back up for a return to play,” Vogel said. “Until they tell me he’s cleared, this is the group that we’ve got, and we’ve got to win a game Thursday night.”
That doesn’t explicitly rule Gasol out for Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, but it also doesn’t all exactly paint an incredibly optimistic picture of him being close to ready to go. And as much as Gasol has become a punching bag for Lakers fans at times this year, no matter what you personally think of his game, it’s just painfully clear at this point that this team really needs one more big body in the paint to serve as some level of deterrent for drivers and opposing rebounders.
Maybe some help is on the way at the NBA trade deadline on Thursday afternoon, but even if the Lakers make a deal then or quickly sign a buyout guy — Andre Drummond, anyone? — they in all likelihood won’t be ready in time for that game. So the Lakers could really use Gasol back soon, but it’s also completely understandable that they’re looking longer term, and trying to ease the 36-year-old back in to game action in an attempt to avoid him getting injured.
Still, that sensible choice also leaves some obvious drawbacks, and they’re going to miss Gasol in the meantime. The Lakers next play against the Sixers on Thursday before hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. If he misses those two, Gasol’s next chance to return after that stretch would be against the Orlando Magic on Sunday.