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Is the messy relationship between Marc Gasol and the Lakers still worth salvaging?

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The value of Marc Gasol significantly depends on how the Lakers coaching staff utilizes him.

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Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Three Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Marc Gasol and the Lakers’ partnership has been a messy entanglement straight out of a teenage television drama. Girl tells boy she loves being with him at the start of their relationship, then realizes his glaring flaws as the relationship goes on, and then finds herself slowly persuaded and attracted to a completely different guy. She then replaces her boyfriend with this new guy in her life, and shuts the former out entirely.

Then, after a few months, the girl realizes her replacement wasn’t meant to be after all, so now, she and her original boyfriend (who once wanted to leave, but still continued to hang on despite how he was treated) are in an real awkward place. The “will they or won’t they” dynamic is similar to Marc Gasol’s tenure with the Lakers.

When Marc was acquired by the Lakers last November to replace JaVale McGee, many fans rejoiced at the fact that another Gasol was set to wear purple and gold. What fans didn’t expect was that the younger Gasol brother would be treated exactly how his older brother was in his latter years with the Lakers.

The honeymoon stage for Marc and the Lakers was as smooth as his ability to pass the ball. In the first 40 games the Big Spaniard played this season, he averaged 4.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in 19.7 minutes per game. Perhaps more notably, he was also the team’s starting center when the Lakers cruised to a 21-7 record to begin the season before suffering their first of many adversities.

At that time, scoring wasn’t Gasol’s best contribution. It was his playmaking and ability to read opposing defenses that differentiated him from McGee and even Dwight Howard. What brought glee to many fans in particular, was Marc’s on court chemistry with LeBron James.

In 36 games the duo played together, Gasol assisted James 26 times, mostly for a highlight dunk or layup.

But as the season went on, Gasol’s defensive liabilities became more apparent. Even if his defensive IQ was probably higher than anyone’s on the court, he was still picked on and attacked by opposing teams due to his lack of foot speed. He’s also not a vertical spacing big like how McGee and Howard were with the championship squad.

More notably, Marc also ranked in just the second percentile for rim deterrence, per BBall-Index. The clip below shows how he was normally attacked during the regular season.

Gasol also had the second-worst playoff net rating on the team, as LA was outscored by 19.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. The Lakers’ coaching staff (who do their adjustments first and foremost based on defense) probably saw Gasol’s defense as a disadvantage in the first few months of the regular season.

However in Gasol’s defense, what doesn’t get talked about so much is how COVID severely slowed the 36-year-old veteran down. Gasol, who contracted COVID in March, mentioned that the symptoms he experienced affected his performance. He went from not being able to breathe, smell and taste to having to play an NBA game just a few weeks later. That’s definitely a hell of a demand for an aging big man, and especially one who has never been the most gifted athlete to start with.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Meanwhile on offense, It didn’t help that Gasol’s skill set, particularly his ability to pick-and-pop, wasn’t maximized. In the 52 games Gasol played last season, he only had 21 pick-and pop 3-point attempts. Posting him up and using him as a roller isn’t what the Spaniard does best. The value of Gasol on offense does depend — at least to some degree — on the coaching staff and how often they utilize the big man.

And because Gasol didn’t completely satisfy the Lakers’ front office or his teammates on both ends of the floor, his starting job was lost to the freshly recruited Andre Drummond.

Marc Gasol’s fit with the Lakers

Comparing Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol’s performance last season is moot at this point. In reality, Drummond and Gasol are two entirely different players who provided different ingredients to the team. The Lakers chose Drummond’s skillset, and despite the team’s original desire to keep The Big Penguin long-term, both eventually decided to part ways in the off season.

Still, picking up Drummond in the buyout market and having him replace Gasol’s starting job was a bad look for the latter. It also didn’t look promising for his chances to stay that the Lakers reportedly considered salary dumping Gasol to the Timberwolves. Furthermore, the team acquiring DeAndre Jordan this off season is another indication that the Lakers won’t prioritize what Gasol can still bring to the table.

Acquiring Jordan (who ranked 96th percentile among bigs in shooting percentage at the rim) makes it seem like the Lakers are going back to their championship identity that is bigger, faster and stronger — their winning formula in the 2019-2020 season, which they shouldn’t have abandoned in the first place.

It’s difficult to see Marc slotted in a role where he has to physically fight in the paint for rebounds, throw down alley-oops and strongly finish inside from the drop-off passes delivered by the team’s playmakers. Gasol doesn’t have a strong case on defense either, where rim protection is key in being the bigger, faster and stronger team.

That said, it’s hard to blame Marc if ever he does insist for a buyout agreement. He went from being the team’s starting center to getting demoted to the bench and now possibly the third option in the Lakers’ current center rotation. His stylistic fit with the team’s desired identity isn’t perfect either, hence why the team appears ready to replace him.

So, what’s next for the Lakers and Marc Gasol?

If Gasol does decide to stay with the Lakers, it’s going to be difficult for Frank Vogel to distribute minutes to four centers (including Anthony Davis who reportedly will play center more this season). The good news for Gasol is that he has a few advantages in his bag that Howard and Jordan do not — which the Lakers can find a way to make use of this season, if both sides are amenable to a very different arrangement from the one they originally planned last summer.

Despite not being an ideal fit, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Lakers to keep Gasol. Not only will they have a playmaking big who can stretch the floor (something this team could use as a change of pace) but also someone who can be an insurance for Howard and Jordan, who are more likely prone to injuries or sitting out games because of their age.

If L.A. still sees value in Gasol’s ability to pop, space the floor, facilitate and defensive IQ, and he accepts the fact that he won’t have a huge role in the team, then their dysfunctional relationship is worth giving one last shot. If not, then like an ultimately doomed partnership from one of those aforementioned teen dramas, it’s time for them to part ways.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani