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Gasol ready to reassert himself 31 Jul 2013

By JOSEPH WILSON

With Dwight Howard gone and Kobe Bryant injured, Pau Gasol is eager to reassert himself as a leader of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gasol said that he wants, knees allowing, to be the dominant player of old who helped Bryant and Co. win back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.

"I think I have the most uncertain period behind me," Gasol said. "The team has suffered a lot of changes, but as far as me, I am back in the position of a lot of responsibility, which I like, and I'm just going to focus on getting healthy.

"Now with Dwight gone I am the reference inside and I am more like I was a couple of years back when we made the finals three straight times and won two straight championships."

The Lakers have entered one of the franchise's most difficult eras in recent memory, with Howard snubbing the storied club to sign with the Houston Rockets, and Bryant, its heart and soul, out indefinitely recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.

Gasol said he wasn't surprised by Howard's decision to leave after just one season because it was "always a possibility." He described his former teammate a "nice guy" and a "hard worker."

Gasol spoke to the AP in the Barcelona airport, where he had just returned from a trip as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador to a refugee camp established in Iraq for the thousands fleeing the armed conflict in neighboring Syria. Gasol called attention to the shortages of "water supplies, schools for children, and medicine" in the camp that was built for 15,000 but has taken in 50,000.

Gasol said that his humanitarian work gives balance to his life as a professional athlete and all the noise surrounding his team, especially during last season when the Lakers went from preseason title contender to getting swept in the first round of the playoffs.

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