LOS ANGELES — From the time he arrived in Hollywood, Pau Gasol has thrived in the spotlight that comes with the territory.
From the moment he teamed up with Kobe Bryant, the Lakers don’t lose more than three games in a row and have never lost a best-of-five series.
No inside/outside tandem is as dominant as the Kobe and Pau duo, no better pairing exists in the NBA that allows each to get touches in a way that is virtually impossible to stop when clicking.
When defenders are drawn to Kobe on the perimeter, all it does is free up Gasol to work in the post.
When Gasol is putting up numbers on the block, his passing skills allow him to spot Bryant from anywhere on the floor.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are slowly finding their rhythm in South Florida, but each is best suited to working on the perimeter, which isn’t to say that neither is effective in the post but the tandem is not a traditional inside/outside attack.
The closest comparison is in San Antonio, but neither Tony Parker nor Manu Ginobili are as good as Kobe and with Tim Duncan getting older, no one in their right mind would take the Big Fundamental over Gasol at this stage of their career.
“No one remembers Pau in Memphis, even though he helped them to 50 wins and to the playoffs,’’ Jose Calderon said as the Raptors prepared to take on the Lakers Thursday night here at Staples Center. “Pau was a great player then.
“It wasn’t until he began to play with Kobe that people started to see what he could do. Lakers don’t win two titles in a row without Pau.”
Calderon is right in his assessment.
As dominant as Bryant has been and continues to be, his triple-double the other night in Sacramento in only his fifth game since knee surgery reinforcing the obvious, he needs an inside sidekick to complement his game.
Without Pau, there are few reliable options to defer when teams come with extra defenders.
Andrew Bynum has the size, but he has nowhere near Gasol’s feel for the game, ability to pass and has proven to be too injury-prone.
Without Shaq, L.A.’s first three-peat could not have been possible.
There are teams in the West knocking on L.A.’s door with a youthful look, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers inching closer to being championship calibre, and in the East teams such as Boston, Orlando and Miami can match up with the Lakers.
But there is nothing that comes remotely close to matching up with the Kobe and Gasol tandem.
“Their games are just perfect for each other,’’ Calderon said. “When Pau wants to take over games, he can do it.”
Calderon and Gasol were expected to convene over dinner Thursday night.
Calderon has known Gasol for close to 20 years and remembers the first time he saw Gasol on a basketball court.
“Skinny,” began Calderon with laughter. “Real, real skinny. He was tall and clumsy. It really wasn’t good.
“On our team, he was the 12th man and he didn’t play much. It’s funny because we all knew he’d be great because he could handle the ball, he could shoot from the outside because he was too skinny to go into the post.”
Calderon is hardly surprised at Gasol’s evolution into what many often refer to as the best skilled big man in basketball.
“Pau can do everything,’’ added Calderon. “He’s not just a scorer. He can pass and he can be a point guard from the post.”
Even the knock on Gasol being soft has quietly been put to bed.
In last spring’s epic NBA final against Boston, Gasol got the better of Kevin Garnett.
No longer can opponents intimidate Gasol because he’s no longer vulnerable.
Playing with an assassin such as Bryant has rubbed off, though Gasol will never be as mentally tough as Kobe, who has no peer in today’s NBA.
From a skill set, Gasol has no peer either.