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Pau Gasol wants to start, but Mike D’Antoni may continue to bring him off the bench

Jan 19, 2013, 3:30 PM EDT

Kobe Bryant AP

The Lakers don’t need any more problems in this troubled season, one in which the team is merely trying to figure things out just enough to sneak back into the playoff picture before time runs out.

But there may be one brewing between Pau Gasol and Mike D’Antoni.

When Gasol missed five games due to a concussion, reserve Earl Clark made the most of his opportunity, and proved to be a serviceable big in Gasol’s absence.

In Gasol’s first game back from the injury, he came off the bench due to concerns over his conditioning, but that was believed to be a short-term role for the player who was a part of two championship teams in Los Angeles.

It turns out, however, that Mike D’Antoni is strongly considering bringing Gasol off the bench more permanently. And that’s not something that’s going to sit well with Gasol.

From Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles:

My job is to put the best team on the floor,” D’Antoni explained after admitting that he had not yet decided if Gasol or Clark would start against the Raptors. “If I feel like (starting Gasol is) the best way to go, then we’ll go that way. If I don’t, it’s nothing personal. It’s just that I got to do what I think is right. I think every player has to accept what is right, whether they like it or not. So, that’s the bottom line.

“Now, does he deserve to start? Yeah, he does. He’s been here a long time and probably that will happen, but if it doesn’t, then you know what? You got to go on. You got to contribute. You got teammates to think about. You got the Lakers to think about. You got to do whatever is best for the Lakers.”

That all sounds fine, and D’Antoni is right — if in fact the best lineup combinations for the team involve Gasol beginning the game as a reserve, then theoretically, so be it. Gasol should be fine with it for the greater good of the team, etc.

Managing egos, however, is a huge part of being a successful head coach in the NBA, especially at the championship level. The ability to do that masterfully, more than anything, is the reason why Phil Jackson has 11 rings as a coach. Sure, he had all the talent in the world. But getting Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to coexist long enough for the Lakers to get three straight titles out of the pair before things went south was no small feat, and D’Antoni risks alienating Gasol if he doesn’t take into account the ego of one of the team’s best players, and one who is among those Bryant trusts the most.

Gasol will, of course, do his best to make it work. But his comments on the situation were telling, as he made it clear that he’s not going to be thrilled if indeed the decision is made to continue to bring him off the bench.

“I’ve never come off the bench in my career,” Gasol said. “(Thursday) was my first game off the bench with the Lakers, maybe a couple other games due to injuries, but that’s it. I’ve been a starter my entire career. I’ve been a star starter my entire career, so I want to continue to be a star starter.”

A “star starter.” There’s the ego piece creeping in, and again, D’antoni needs to be sensitive to that.

Now, to the coach’s credit, he’s said more than once that it isn’t who starts the games that matter; it’s who finishes them. And he practiced what he preached in Thursday’s game against Miami — Gasol came off the bench and played just 24 minutes, but was on the floor with the rest of the starters for the entire fourth quarter when the game was in the balance.

As we discussed on the podcast, there’s an easy way to make this work. D’Antoni could placate Gasol by starting him for the game’s first four-to-six minutes, and then rotate him how he sees fit the rest of the contest, before inserting him down the stretch with the rest of the players who make up the team’s strongest lineup.

D’Antoni has a reputation of being a bit stubborn where player matters are concerned, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go with Gasol as a reserve for another game or two. But it would be to the long-term detriment of his team, and this season more than any other, the Lakers simply don’t need any more problems.

  1. money2long - Jan 19, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    i’m starting to like the sound of gasol for josh smith more and more. but i really don’t know. any opinions ? i’m not fully invested in this, so don’t come at my head with are you crazy or that’s stupid or the math doesn’t work, or whatever..just dipping my toe in these waters, that’s all.

    • eventhorizon04 - Jan 19, 2013 at 4:45 PM

      Gasol for Smith would be good for the Lakers – Smith would make the Lakers younger and more athletic, and Smith is a guy who could play good defense on Durant and LeBron (both of whom have annihilated the Lakers in recent games).

      But it would be a bad trade for the Hawks. Danny Ferry is looking for pieces to build a contender in the future. Pau is very expensive, on the decline, and has recently been injury prone. The Hawks meanwhile already have a All-Star center in Al Horford.

      So a trade that so heavily benefits one side likely won’t work.

      • aboogy123456 - Jan 19, 2013 at 5:49 PM

        Im not saying I disagree completely with the idea of Gasol for Smith, but people keep citing their age difference as a reason why one would do it and the other wouldn’t. Josh smith is younger but his whole game relies on his athleticism. Gasol is 32, but his game relies on being tall and very skilled. I think based on this both players have pretty much the same number of years of effectiveness left, my guess about 4.

      • 00maltliquor - Jan 19, 2013 at 6:01 PM

        Not that the trade should go down for either teams, but if you’re not looking at the big contract/aging star aspect of it, having Gasol play C so that it could slide Al Horford back over to his natural PF position could be beneficial to Horford and the Hawks.

  2. themagicfanguy - Jan 19, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    You can like the sound of it, but it ain’t happening. There is ZERO chance that ATL trades its most valuable asset for the LESS valuable asset in Gasol, unless Dwight Howard is included… Ain’t happening.

  3. themagicfanguy - Jan 19, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    Plus, Gasol is the reason LA won two rings a few seasons back. Not Kobe, not Bynum, Gasol. Gasol isn’t the problem. Kobe, Nash, and D’antoni are the problem.

    • skinsfanwill - Jan 20, 2013 at 12:46 AM

      I’m glad somebody knows it. Tell me one player that Kobe has made better. None. If anything, playing with him made them reluctant in their entire game. Kobe is a black hole not a black mamba. D’Antoni is a friggin idiot for even comparing Earl Clark to Gasol. He doesn’t have a clue on how to run a team. He ran the Knicks into the ground and he will do the same with the Lakers.

  4. mendenhallfumblemachine - Jan 19, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    Why would hawks want that… Any reason at all…?

  5. abchome - Jan 19, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    Gasol must not have recovered from his concussion. There is no need to tell the public how selfish you are!

  6. zacksdad - Jan 19, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    “You got the Lakers to think about. You got to do whatever is best for the Lakers.”

    May Jim Buss should have heeded to these words when he hired Mike I and Mike II. But it looks like the downfall of the Lakers is not the egos of the players, but the ego of the owners son.

  7. eventhorizon04 - Jan 19, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    D’Antoni’s system runs best with at most 1 low-post-dominant center on the floor at the time, so I understand him wanting Gasol to be a bench player. However, I think the simplest solution is what Brett proposed.

    Start the game with Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Gasol, and Howard for the first few minutes. After 4-5 minutes, sub-Gasol out and replace him with Clark. For most of the rest of the game, only have Howard *or* Gasol on the floor (rarely both unless a specific matchup favors it).

    Then in the final few minutes of the game, use Gasol and not Howard (until Howard learns how to hit free throws.)

    With this plan, Gasol is “a starter,” but he and Howard are only playing side-by-side for a few minutes early in the first quarter before Gasol is subbed out. For most of the game, Howard is on the floor providing defense and rebounding, then Gasol comes in towards the end to prevent the Hack-a-Dwight strategy teams have been using successfully against the Lakers for most of the season.

    • 00maltliquor - Jan 19, 2013 at 6:09 PM

      Well, since you put it that way…I LOVE that idea!

      Too bad Mike D is too stupid to ever take D12 out during the last 6 min. of the 4th qtrs. So…so much for that brilliant strategy. Sadly.

      • raidmagic - Jan 19, 2013 at 7:30 PM

        Yes, yes take your best defensive player off the floor at the end of games…brilliant!

      • 00maltliquor - Jan 19, 2013 at 7:45 PM

        Yes, leave an offensive liability at the free throw line on the court so we can’t score while he constantly gets hacked. BRILLIANT.

        You’re a real savant, raidmagic. You do know you need to the most points at the end of 48 min to be considered the winner of the contest, right? What good is defense when you got a guy that can go 0-10 down the strech of a tight game at the line when you got another guy that can actually hit a free throw and play servicable defense when engaged?

      • raidmagic - Jan 19, 2013 at 10:09 PM

        @maltiquor

        Seemed to work for the Magic for the last 8 years. If you aren’t familiar with the rules of basketball, fouls off the ball in the last two minutes results in 2 free throws and the ball so even if he misses both or goes 1 or 2 (which is more likely) you get the ball back. You do know the other team has to have the ball to score points, right?

  8. e39er - Jan 19, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    All hands on deck, Lakers are losing, Gasol needs to do what’s best for the TEAM…starting to show Kobe is willin to sacrifice, Nash and Howard are starting to click, Gasol needs to stop whining and just play and start defending

  9. rjlink1 - Jan 19, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    Is there any team that wants Gasol and that has something the Lakers could use? Clearly he needs to be traded. NOT given away though. I trust the Lakers will be patient and get a good piece (not a draft pick) in return.

    • skinsfanwill - Jan 20, 2013 at 12:51 AM

      He was given to the Lakers, why not give him away. And take D’Antoni with him. How do you have 4 legit Hall of Famers in your starting lineup and have these type of problems. Horrible coaching!!!!!

      • mazblast - Jan 20, 2013 at 12:08 PM

        Are you saying Metta is HOF quality? And that Howard has done anything other than wear goofy clothes, miss free throws, and be injured?

        Please, child.

  10. BigBeachBall - Jan 19, 2013 at 10:31 PM

    someone found his big boy pants…

  11. glink123 - Jan 20, 2013 at 6:01 AM

    Still don’t get why everyone is so enamored with D’Antoni. The guy literally hasn’t done jack sh!t in this league, and yet he pontificates to the media like he’s Red Auerbach.

  12. omniusprime - Jan 20, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Dumbtoni is a total moron if he thinks that Gasol should come off the bench instead of start. The only one who should come off the Laker bench is Dumbtoni, the most arrogant, ignorant coach in the NBA and he should be taken off permanently. It’s past time to fire this worthless piece of garbage before he destroys the Lakers by honking off every starter. Gasol isn’t the problem, Dumbtoni is.

    The best things that could happen to the Lakers is to fire Dumbtoni and let Bernie Bickerstaff coach the team, look what Carlesimo has done with the Nyets. The next best thing is to trade away Ancient Nash, the most pathetic excuse for a point guard in the NBA because he is incapable of playing any defense. Next Daddy Buss has to wake up and fire his little idiot buss boy and replace him with Phil and Jeanie as a wedding present to them.

    Fire Dumbtoni!!! Trade Away Nash!!! Fire the little idiot buss boy!!! We Want Phil and Jeanie!!!

    • Foul Dwimmerlaik - Jan 20, 2013 at 10:14 AM

      I tend to agree, but I would like to see if Gasol would be more effective starting off the bench like Manu.

      But just like you, I don’t think D’Antoni’s preferred system matches the personnel that he has.

  13. ocgunslinger - Jan 20, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    I thought D’Antoni. did a good job in Phoenix and wasn’t given the right players in New York for his system. I was of the opinion to give D’Antoni. time before making a judgment as to his ability to coach this team with these players. In my opinion the time is now over. If you make a bad decision you only make a second bad decision with inaction if you don’t acknowledge his inability with this roster. No excuses….. He has to go and the sooner the better.

    • Foul Dwimmerlaik - Jan 20, 2013 at 10:10 AM

      Same sentiments. A coach should be able to make do and maximize the potential of his team with the type of players he has.

  14. Foul Dwimmerlaik - Jan 20, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Manu almost always comes off the bench… and yet it never diminished his star-quality and his importance to the Spurs team.

    If Gasol needs to be the sixth man then so be it. He has to deal with that.

  15. talkingfan - Jan 20, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Gasol need to bring it, he’s looking like he has no idea where he is most times. Alot of that has to do with Kobe taking to many bad shot and not getting the big guys in the game so I can see this cont. to happen. Where as Clark bring hustle that extra D. I no it how you finish but sometime the of the game dose play a part in flow of the game and how you finish. Having said all that GO EARL CLARK keep earning those minutes.

  16. mazblast - Jan 20, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    Pau needs to get over himself. He also needs to give coming off the bench a chance. It may improve his game, which, considering the money he’s paid, needs considerable improvement.

  17. rodericksilva - Jan 20, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    Gasol singlehandedly took Spain to the Gold medal game. Team USA doubled him and he gave them a hard time.

    DAntoni forces players to fit his system. He doesn’t change his system to fit his personnel. That is why he was run out of NY and the Knicks have been much better without him.

    Gasol is unselfish and may be the best center in the NBA in the 4th quarter. I’d rather sit Howard in the 4th.

    Buss Jr. Is trying to show daddy that he can do it on his own without PJackson. BIG MIATAKE choosing a guy with no resume over a guy with 11 championships and 5 of them with your franchise and current stars in Kobe, Gasol and MWP.

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