And Lakers coach Byron Scott said fans owe Gasol one thing:
"A standing ovation," Scott said. "This is a guy that was here that helped to win two championships. He deserves that. Pau was a great player when he was here and is still a great player. He’s having a lot of success in Chicago. But I think fans should show him the respect that he deserves."
The 7-foot Spaniard joined the Lakers in a 2008 trade with the Memphis Grizzlies and helped turn around a franchise still searching for an identity after Shaquille O'Neal left in 2004 via trade to Miami.
In the first three seasons after O’Neal’s departure, the Lakers missed the playoffs once and twice failed to reach the second round. After Gasol arrived, they reached three straight NBA Finals, winning in 2009 and 2010.
But Gasol's later years in L.A. were riddled with injuries, mixed results and trade rumors, including when he was involved in a nixed 2011 deal that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers.
Ultimately, Gasol left the Lakers after 6½ seasons to accept a three-year, $22 million deal from the Bulls while spurning a richer offer from the Lakers and a plea from Kobe Bryant to stay.
"I thought here in L.A., for whatever reason, he was getting beat up a lot," Scott said. "I thought it took a toll on him. That’s probably one of the main reasons he decided to go to Chicago."
Gasol, a 14-year veteran who was named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter last week, is averaging 18.3 points a game -- his best mark since 2010-11 -- and a career-high 11.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Scott said that when the Lakers played in Chicago on Christmas Day, Gasol looked "totally different."
"Offensively, he really doesn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses," Scott said. "He’s probably the best passing big man in the game besides his brother [Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies]. When he’s on the post, he’s a guy that can get it done on the post with turnaround jump shots and hook shots over either shoulder.
"And if you double him, he can make you pay by the way he passes the ball out of a double-team. He’s just one of those guys that you hope that he’s missing shots that night."
Scott said he expects Gasol to face a range of emotions Thursday, when the Lakers plan to honor Gasol with a video tribute.
"I think at the very start [of Thursday's game], he’ll think about his time here and the great success that he’s had here and he’ll probably think about some of the other times as well," Scott said.
"I think there will be a mixture of emotions going through him. But once again, when it’s all said and done and the game is over, hopefully he’ll know that the people here do appreciate him."