|Kobe Bryant pushes Lakers management to make a decision on Pau Gasol's future. (Getty Images)|
It's time for the agonizing waiting game and endless trade rumors to end, according to Kobe Bryant.
Following a double-digit Sunday night loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers All-Star guard ramped up his recent public comments aimed at his team's management, stating clearly that it was time for the Lakers to make a decision regarding the future of big man Pau Gasol.
ESPNLA.com reports that Bryant summed up the situation bluntly: trade Gasol or publicly acknowledge that his future will be in Los Angeles.
"Basketball is such an emotional game, you got to be able to have all of yourself in the game and invested in the game. We didn't have that," Bryant said after Gasol had 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Suns. "Pau, it's hard for Pau because of all this trade talk and all this other stuff, it's hard for him to kind of invest himself completely or immerse himself completely into games when he's hearing trade talk every other day. I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him."
"I talked to (Gasol) a little bit about it," Bryant said. "It's just tough for a player to give his all when you don't know if you're going to be here tomorrow. I'd rather them not trade him at all. If they're going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it. If they're not going to do it, come out and say you're not going to do it. This way he can be comfortable, he can go out, he can play and he can invest all of himself into the game."
On Saturday, Bryant said that ongoing trade rumors were affecting Gasol's play and that the Spanish center had his support."Personally I don't understand that crap," Bryant said about the rumors, according to the Los Angeles Times. "But it is what it is. It's important for him to know we support him. I support him especially. I just want him to go out there and play hard and do what he does best for us."
Those comments came a little more than a week after Bryant said he was "sure" the Lakers would make roster moves prior to the trade deadline.
Gasol, 31, was not named to the Western Conference All-Star team for the first time since 2008. His numbers this season -- 16.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 blocks per game on 49.5 percent shooting -- aren't terrible, but his scoring average is currently a career-low and his shooting percentage has dipped a few points since last year.
Of course, Gasol was nearly traded to the Houston Rockets back in December as part of a 3-team blockbuster that would have sent New Orleans Hornets All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers. That deal was nixed, and Paul wound up with the Los Angeles Clippers, while Gasol remained in Los Angeles, his future uncertain. The rumors including Gasol have been fairly steady since December, with a potential trade scenario involving the Minnesota Timberwolves surfacing last week.
While still one of the league's most productive and versatile big men, Gasol has a monster contract. He's on the books this year for $18.7 million and has a 2012-2013 salary of $19 million and a 2013-2014 salary of $19.2 million, according to StoryTellersContracts.com. That figure, combined with Gasol's age, limits the Lakers' potential trade partners to teams that are serious about making a playoff run immediately. Otherwise, what's the point?
It goes without saying that public pressure from a superstar on management is less than ideal for the Lakers, who dropped to 18-13 with the loss on Sunday. Bryant seems to be giving his endorsement to Gasol and seeking the same from Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, an action which would essentially handcuff the Lakers at next month's trade deadline. Other than Gasol and franchise center of the future Andrew Bynum, there's not a true trade asset on the roster, although the Lakers do possess a trade exception generated by the Lamar Odom dump to the Dallas Mavericks.
In other words, a definitive public statement on Gasol's future would really paint the Lakers into a corner. It's a nice thing for Bryant to say and it might make Gasol feel better, but there are two dualling goals here -- getting Gasol comfortable and doing whatever it takes to upgrade the Lakers roster -- and it's impossible for Lakers management to do both right now.