- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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Ever since Pau Gasol first picked up a basketball, whatever praise he received was counterbalanced when he was told in the next breath how much better he could be if he did things differently.
Bulk up. Get in the post. Be more aggressive.
As recently as last month, when the Lakers played in Washington, Kobe Bryant explained to reporters how he's still not satisfied with his three-time All-Star teammate, who helped him win a ring last season.
"I get on him a lot because he's a great player already but I don't want him to be comfortable just being a great player," Bryant said. "I think he can be even better. I want to see that from him because he has so much talent. Offensively and defensively he can do so many things. I want to see him even take another step."
Maybe that's why when Gasol was asked Monday if his younger brother Marc -- the Memphis Grizzlies starting center Los Angeles will face Tuesday -- would ever become better than him at basketball, Pau got defensive and gave credit to the player his brother already is.
"Marc is going to be himself," Pau, 29, said about his 25-year-old brother. "I don't think his goal has to be to be better than me. I think he's got to be as best as he can be."
While both brothers are considered skilled big men, Pau, at 7-foot, 250 pounds, has always been urged to become a bit more like Ernie (he came into the league weighing just 227) and Marc, at 7-foot-1, 265 pounds, has been begged to become more like Bert (he came into the league listed at 280).
"When we drafted him he was kind of a pudgy, big guy," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said about Marc, whom Los Angeles selected with the 48th pick in the 2007 NBA draft.
"His body type has changed significantly," Jackson continued. "He's still a little bit bigger and brawnier than his brother, but he's more of a mesomorph than an ectomorph in that way."
Marc is averaging 15.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks and shooting 58.0 percent from the floor (compared to 17.2, 11.1, 1.8 and 52.0 percent for Pau) and is a big reason why the Grizzlies are the surprise story of the season with a 28-27 record after winning just 24 games last season.
"His game, I think, has really adjusted to what it's going to be," Jackson said. "He can play through fouls, he likes contact. He seems to like the rough game."
In just his second year, Marc's numbers are comparable to what Pau's are in his ninth, and he's winning in Memphis faster than his big brother did, too. In Pau's sophomore season, the Grizzlies finished 28-54.
Yet Marc still doesn't get the respect his career should warrant. He still has the stigma of Frank Stallone to Pau's Sylvester because he was included in the trade that shifted the balance of power in the West and shoehorned L.A. into championship contender status. He may very well win the NBA's Most Improved Player award this year, yet when Jackson spoke extemporaneously about the Grizzlies' success this season, he mentioned the contributions by Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. He had to be asked about Marc.
"I hope he can achieve and accomplish what I accomplished because I love him to death and I'm proud of what he's done already," Pau said. "I think he's going to be an even better player than what he is today. How good is he going to be? I don't know. I think he's going to be one of the best centers in the world. He's already at that level for me."
As Pau prepares to go up against one of the best centers in the world on Tuesday, he also is readying to return to the place where he started and established his career. The place where he won Rookie of the Year, earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, made his first trip to the playoffs and where he remains the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
They are accolades that Marc will have a chance to mimic should he spend the rest of his career in Memphis. They are things Pau wants for his little brother, too.
"I want him to do well, but at the same time," Pau said, "I don't want him to do better than me."
Dave McMenamin cover the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com
8hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
9hMatt Walks, ESPN.com