As it's been for basically every principal member of the Lakers roster in one form or another, this season has brought plenty of highs, lows, and drama for Pau Gasol. Questions about his fit in the offense present under Mike Brown at the start of the season only grew when Brown was replaced with Mike D'Antoni. Pau went huge in the season opener, posting 23 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists with three blocks, but went downhill fast. He shot only 41.7 percent in November and has spent more time sitting, whether in street clothes due to injury or in fourth quarters due to D'Antoni's coaching preferences, than at any point in his professional career.
Gasol acknowledges it's been tough, but despite the disappointing production, questions about his relationship with D'Antoni, and the always-percolating trade chatter surrounding him one thing we haven't heard as much about this year is his emotional state. Even as his future in Los Angeles is still an open question and the Lakers fight just to make the playoffs, contrasted with the last two he has this year shown much more steadiness and calm. So much so that as one reporter noted after Friday's win over Memphis, Gasol seems pretty Zen about the whole thing.
Not an accident, as it turns out.
“A little bit. I'm reading books about the Zen philosophy and mindset. Zen's Mind, Beginner's Mind,” Gasol said.
After Sunday's loss, I asked Pau what motivated him to start exploring Zen in more depth (keeping in mind he used to have a coach into that sort of thing). “Well, just by reading other books about leadership and self-organization and to have a happy and fulfilled life,” he said. “All of them pretty much mentioned meditation, self-awareness, live in the present, keeping your mind calm, and emptying your mind.”
The last couple years have been tough for him, I noted.
“True,” he replied. And the study, he believes, has been beneficial.
“It's helped me,” Gasol said. “It's helped me, reading these books I think has helped me deal with a lot of stuff that I've been through.”
There aren't many that many positives at which to point this season, and overall for Gasol this year has been a big disappointment. But I'm happy to see him playing well down the stretch — 13.8 points on 52.5 percent shooting, 8.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists over his last five games. If this is his last run as a Laker, and it certainly could be, it's only appropriate he go out playing more like the guy who helped bring three Finals and two titles, as opposed to the more inconsistent performer (and at points much worse) of the last two seasons.
A different approach mentally appears to be paying off.