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Friday, Dec. 25, 2009

Lakers give Gasol lucrative extension

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Spanish forward Pau Gasol knows he surprised nobody by agreeing to a three-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday nearly two seasons before it kicks in.

After a rough start to his NBA career in Memphis, Gasol had been vocal about his desire to stay with the NBA champions well into the future. And after nearly two years in Hollywood as Kobe Bryant's best supporting player, Gasol thinks Bryant will follow his lead this time.

"It gives me tremendous peace of mind and safety and confidence," Gasol said at the Lakers' training complex. "We have a tremendous team, and we all want the same thing. We want to be the best team out there. It's a great thing as a player to be a part of something this special."

Gasol's deal extends through the 2013-14 season, and could be worth more than $60 million depending on future salary caps.

Gasol has been to two NBA Finals since joining the Lakers on Feb. 1, 2008, in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies that propelled Los Angeles back into the league's elite. His impact on the Lakers has been undeniable: The club is an astonishing 101-23 in regular-season games with Gasol in the lineup, and Bryant anointed Gasol as basketball's best big man after Tuesday's win over Oklahoma City.

"With the way we play, with the players we have on our team, I can't imagine a big man who would be better to play for this team than Pau," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said.

A superb rebounder, a solid low-post defender and a dependable No. 2 scoring option alongside Bryant, Gasol earned an All-Star berth and averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds last season as Los Angeles won its 15th NBA title. His numbers are nearly the same this season despite missing the first 11 games with an injured right hamstring.

Los Angeles is 15-1 since Gasol's return.

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