For several years, questions about Pau Gasol's toughness have followed him.
The 7'0 power forward is a four-time NBA All-Star, and was voted Rookie of the Year in 2002. Yet, when Gasol has his struggles, many are quick to call him soft.
Is Gasol, in fact, soft?
Observing his play, Gasol holds his ground with several big men, he isn't afraid to dunk the ball, blocks shots on a consistent basis, and his work ethic is never questioned.
At the same time, though, Gasol does little to intimidate foes. He doesn't offer a reason for smaller players to penetrate into the lane. Also, he rarely sends a statement by issuing a hard foul on opponents, and at times has trouble dominating smaller opponents.
The question of Gasol's possible softness comes after consecutive low output games against the New Orleans Hornets, a team lacking a quality big man. Gasol has not taken advantage of the situation thus far, averaging only eight points per game and 5.5 rebounds.
It seems there is some justification for labeling Gasol soft. Even though he has shown signs throughout his Laker career of toughening up when it matters, the past two games at Staples Center lend some credence to critics who claim Gasol is not as tough as he should be.
But that might be a good thing.
Gasol's apparent softness works to his benefit and the Lakers' benefit. He rarely has to sit because of foul trouble, never gets suspended, he scores a lot of points because of his finesse, and puts up good numbers every season.
The Lakers may not need him to be tough. They need him to be on the court.
Should the Lakers lose Gasol to injury or suspension, or even get less minutes out of him due to being benched for personal fouls, the Lakers title hopes would probably be dashed.
When the issue of Gasol's softness was raised to his teammates, they didn't really deny it. But they did say that they don't necessarily need him to play tougher with guys like Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom helping out.
Also, for Gasol, the results lie in another column: wins.
The Lakers have been to the NBA Finals three straight years since acquiring Gasol. There's a good chance they will be back in the Finals a fourth time, and win their third consecutive title.
That should put the questions of Gasol's toughness to rest.