Los Angeles Lakers: Pau Gasol
“It was dramatic,” recalled Kupchak, the Lakers general manager.
Pau Gasol joined the Lakers a few days earlier in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. In his debut in purple and gold, the 7-foot Spaniard started and poured in 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes against the Nets. The Lakers won that game by 15 points, foreshadowing a river of success that soon followed.
It seems so long ago today, with Gasol having departed the Lakers after six and a half seasons to join the Chicago Bulls over the summer. His new team will host his old one on Christmas Day, the first meeting between the two squads since Gasol left Los Angeles.
“It’s going to be hyped up,” said Lakers reserve guard Nick Young, “because Kobe’s been talking about this since summertime, when I asked him about Pau.”
But as he reminisced about Gasol’s initial days with the Lakers, Kupchak gazed up at their past two championship banners gracing the wall of the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, California -- the ones from 2008-09 and 2009-10.
““We would not have those banners if it wasn’t for Pau,” Kupchak said.
I knew that I had to move on. I needed something different. I needed to be in a different position where I could be assimilated, where I could be motivated every single day. Where I could be rejuvenated. Where I could win and strive for greatness again.” -- Pau Gasol on leaving the Lakers
Nor, he added, would the Lakers have appeared in the NBA Finals at the end of Gasol’s first season with the team, when they fell to the Boston Celtics in six games.
"From Day 1, he was terrific for this organization," Kupchak said.
Gasol 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.
Beyond that, Kobe Bryant’s winning percentage in the three seasons after O’Neal left and before Gasol arrived was .520, but with Gasol by his side, that percentage rose to .689, including 13 playoff series wins.
Gasol proved to be an ideal player for Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, a smart, skilled and unselfish big man who was formidable on his own but even more potent once he teamed up with fellow 7-footer Andrew Bynum to form a tough “Twin Towers” tandem.
Yet Gasol’s legacy with the Lakers isn't without its complications.
For as great as his early years were in L.A., his latter years were riddled with injuries and mixed results. Ultimately, Gasol took less money for a fresh start, accepting a three-year, $22 million deal from the Bulls while spurning a richer offer from the Lakers and a plea from Bryant to stay.
“As much as I went through what I went through here the last couple of years, it kind of wore me out and drained me in different ways,” Gasol told reporters when the Bulls were in Los Angeles last month to face the Clippers.
“And it was still difficult to make that call. Leave the city, the team and a franchise with the fans behind me.
“I had just a gut feeling. I knew that I had to move on. I needed something different. I needed to be in a different position where I could be assimilated, where I could be motivated every single day. Where I could be rejuvenated. Where I could win and strive for greatness again.”
Gasol, now in his 13th season, has indeed rejuvenated his career. He’s averaging 18 points a game, his best mark since 2010-11, and 11.4 rebounds a game, a career-high. He’s also blocking 2.0 shots per game, just shy of his career-high (2.1).
“He felt he needed a rebirth,” Kupchak said. “Sometimes that happens to players, especially veteran players, and clearly that’s been the case with him. He’s playing great. I’m happy for him, for his fresh start, which is what he wanted.”
“His last two, three years with us were wrought with rumor and anxiety,” Kupchak said. “I think it was really hard on him from that one moment when we had a deal that fell through.
“From that point forward, it was just hard -- and understandably so -- on him. Very hard. He did not want that to continue.”
In his book, "Pau Gasol: Life. Vida.," Gasol wrote that he was proud of how he handled the aftermath of that 2011 trade.
“I was able to put everything in perspective and remind myself that I was fortunate to have played for the Lakers, to have won two championships, and to be part of this team,” he wrote.
“I’ve had an incredible career, up to this point, and nobody can take that away from me, regardless of what happens tomorrow.”
He also revealed last month that during negotiations the Lakers offered him a no-trade clause, which only six tenured players have, including Bryant.
Kupchak declined to go into specifics about those negotiations, but he added that Gasol “wanted to pick a place and be in that place with some security.”
By that point, though, the damage was done -- and Gasol was worn out in L.A.
It still stings for the Lakers to have seen Gasol walk in free agency without them getting anything in return, which happened the summer before with another talented center, Dwight Howard.
"Maybe if things would have happened in a different way maybe things would have worked out differently, but I don’t know," Gasol said during his visit to L.A. last month. "You've got to stick to what happened and reality, and now I just have to focus on the present."
That's all the Lakers can do, too. They can only appreciate what Gasol brought them -- banners.
"It would be nice to be in that position," Gasol said Thursday. "At least for a few days. And then I'll be back in somebody else's hands."
"No grudges. No hard feelings," Gasol said of hearing his name mentioned in rumors right up until Thursday's noon PT deadline passed. "It is what it is. I'm just glad there are a lot of teams interested in me. That's a good sign. When a lot of teams knock on the door and ask for you, that means you're valuable."
Gasol, whose $19.3 million contract expires at the end of the season, said all the hubbub around him leading up to the trade deadline is an indication there will be suitors knocking on his door when free agency begins after the season.
"I'm pretty confident there will be," Gasol said.
L.A. engaged in talks with the Phoenix Suns about trading Gasol for Emeka Okafor's expiring contract but could not get the Suns to include a future first-round draft pick in the deal. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team was pursuing trades at the deadline only that made basketball sense, not arrangements based on dollars and cents.
"Quite frankly, we had an opportunity to go below the [luxury] tax threshold, but there were no basketball components," Kupchak said without offering specifics if that opportunity would have involved Gasol or other players such as Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman, who were also being shopped. "That's unacceptable with this organization. I think the expression would be a salary dump. That's not what this organization will do. If we could've gotten picks or players we feel good about going forward, then we would've done that. But we did have opportunities to go below the threshold and we wouldn't do it."
The Lakers, who extended Kobe Bryant on a two-year, $48.5 million deal earlier this season months before his contract was to expire, have not had any talks thus far with Gasol about extending him.
Gasol pledged before the game to donate $1,000 for every point he scored to support UNICEF's fundraising efforts in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan that recently devastated the Philippines.
Gasol, who has more than 2.3 million Twitter followers, promoted the cause on his personal account, causing others to tweet to him with their own promises, ranging anywhere from $1 a point to $20 per blocked shot.
"That's what I was hoping to accomplish, to get people to also pledge and contribute and donate along with me so that we could have a bigger impact," Gasol said. "That's basically what it takes. One person can do something, but when you gather a hundred, a thousand people then the impact is much, much bigger."
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson was one of Gasol's followers to chime in, offering $50 a point, $50 a rebound, meaning he will be cutting a $1,700 check (Gasol also had 10 rebounds) to add to the pledge. The Lakers also previously donated $150,000 to the Philippine Red Cross.
"I was thankful, touched and I really appreciated it," Gasol said of Jackson's contribution. "We have a great relationship, and I think for him to jump on board also encouraged other people to do the same, so I really appreciate his gesture and his contribution."
Jackson also tweeted that he would put up $1,000 for every charge that Gasol took against the Warriors, a pledge that went unfulfilled, even though he had an opportunity to do so in the first half.
"Charges are not my thing," Gasol said. "Phil knows that. ... It wasn't on my mind at the time. I had a lot of things, too many things, on my mind already. So, I wish I could have taken a charge to get him to contribute a little more."
Current Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni joked at Friday's shootaround that he hoped Gasol would "go broke" in pursuit of his charitable goal, meaning he was looking for a big game out of his big man, but he was not joining Jackson in padding the cause.
"I think Pau can handle it," D'Antoni said. "I'm not worried about his finances too much."
Gasol, who was named the inaugural winner of the league's Community Assist award in 2011-12, explained why he felt compelled to get involved.
"When something like this happens, a tragedy of this magnitude, I always try to contribute and get involved somehow and again, attract people to join me in the mission," Gasol said. "Thousands of people have died from this catastrophe. Millions have been affected. Their lives have been taken away from them and now they need people that have the means to help them rebuild, to give them hope and that's what we try to do."
Lakers sources indicated to ESPN that the team is still weighing the situation carefully and "looking at everything."
After agreeing to terms with veteran center Chris Kaman earlier in the day on a one-year, $3.2 million contract, the Lakers have only veteran minimum contracts remaining to fill out their roster.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant made his feelings about the situation clear. Bryant first tweeted that "No game 7 win without Metta! This is a tough day for laker nation #misspeace #newcbacasualty," then followed it up with a subsequent tweet saying "Personally I'd keep Metta and make a run with the unit we have and just add a few pieces #keepthepeace #lakersstilldeciding."
While he was at it, Bryant offered his first public comments about center Dwight Howard's decision to leave the Lakers and sign with the Houston Rockets. Bryant had un-followed Howard on Twitter and also posted a photo of Gasol and Bryant together on the court via his Instagram account after Howard announced he had decided to join the Rockets on Friday.
"I wish d12 the best honestly," Bryant tweeted. "I just find it hard to follow players that wanna kick my teams ass #thatsjustme."
Howard’s frustration stems from not being as involved in the offense as he’s accustomed to, as evident from him posting the second-lowest usage percentage of his nine-year career (22.2 percent). With D’Antoni adjusting on the fly to an old and injured roster, and Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash needing touches, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Howard wasn’t utilized as often as he had been in the past.
Still, Howard’s free agency decision may very well come down to whether or not he believes he can flourish under D’Antoni’s guidance. The seven-time All-Star wants the ball run through the block, and not the perimeter, which was the case when Howard was the centerpiece of the Orlando Magic.
Though the Lakers can offer Howard a more talented roster than any of his other options, how the pieces mesh alongside him -- at least from his perspective -- is far from ideal. Howard wants to post up and spread the floor with an army of shooters, but that’s a difficult proposition given the Lakers’ key personnel.
Howard and Gasol have never been an optimal fit -- both players prefer to operate on the low block -- but Gasol’s passing ability and versatile skill set allow the two centers to coexist (much like he did with Andrew Bynum). Nash has spent most of his career as an elite practitioner of the pick-and-roll, so having him dump the ball in the post and spot up seems like a waste of his playmaking abilities. And, as Bryant kindly reminded everyone at the beginning of last season, he’s option No. 1 and will get his shots early and often.
If you compare the way the Lakers used Howard on offense in comparison with his Orlando days, one glaring difference sticks out: his decreased percentage of post-up plays.
In Howard’s final three seasons in Orlando, post-up plays comprised 57.5 percent of his possessions (2011-12), 59 percent of his possessions (2010-11) and 61 percent of his possessions (2009-10).
His percentage of post-up plays with the Lakers last season?
So, where did the other 12 to 16 percent of his offense go?
Pick-and-rolls (from 8.9 percent last season to 11.4 percent this season) and basket cuts (from 8.2 percent last season to 14.1 percent this season).
And what was the result?
A far less efficient version of Howard.
His true shooting percentage (57.3 percent) was well below his career average (59.8 percent), he produced the lowest offensive win shares of his career (2.8) and his turnover percentage crept up to the highest it’s been in three years (16.6 percent).
A significant portion of Howard’s struggles can be attributed to his shoulder and back injuries, which clearly hampered some of his athleticism and explosion. But even when Howard regained his mojo after the All-Star break, and his stats improved, he was hardly the dominant player that he or the Lakers had envisioned back in August.
This is where D’Antoni enters the equation.
Because of the sheer amount of offensive firepower at his disposal, D’Antoni tried adhering to the strengths of his players simultaneously, which often led to inconsistent results. This made Howard function less in the post and more on the move, as his increased involvement in pick-and-rolls and cuts showed.
That makes sense on paper because Howard has been among the league’s best pick-and-roll finishers for quite some time (he was ninth-best this season). But as Howard demonstrated throughout the season, he was reluctant to run the action consistently, especially if it meant compromising touches down low. Coupled with his decreased mobility, Howard’s turnovers (10.4 percent) and score percentage (68.9 percent) out of pick-and-rolls suffered considerably.
The challenge for D’Antoni then is figuring out how to fulfill Howard's wishes of posting up without ignoring the vast talent around him (and the post-up skills of Gasol and Bryant). His decision to have Howard play off of Gasol and Nash’s passing, and Bryant’s penetration, wasn’t as productive as he anticipated. For better or worse, Howard doesn’t enjoy running a ton of pick-and-rolls and cutting behind defenses; he seems to want to make post moves like the great big men before him.
Orlando had a specific system with versatile spot-up shooters at almost every position that allowed them to play through Howard and create open three-pointers out of all the attention he commanded.
The Lakers, meanwhile, don’t have the necessary shooting threats at each position to replicate what Howard wants. What they do have, however, is an elite shot-creator (Bryant), interior scorer (Gasol) and playmaker (Nash), the likes of which Howard has never played with. It’s a major adjustment for him, but one from which he could benefit.
As ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle pointed out, Howard appears to be searching for a center-centric offense that doesn't currently exist in the NBA. Most high-efficiency offenses now revolve around pick-and-rolls and the spacing and three-point shooting opportunities the play provides.
The closest the Lakers came to playing like Orlando was when Bryant went down with his Achilles injury and the Lakers began to post up more. For the season, post-ups accounted for 14.4 percent of the Lakers’ offense, but after Bryant went down, that figure jumped to at least 16.2 percent in the six remaining games (and topped 18 percent in five of the six contests).
It’s a small sample size, but an indication that D’Antoni is capable of adjusting to Howard’s inclinations. With Bryant possibly out until December or January, the Lakers would have a couple months to restructure the offense to appease Howard (if he re-signs), and then figure out how to readjust once Bryant returns.
For the partnership to be fruitful, Howard and D’Antoni each need to make sacrifices and find a reasonable compromise. Howard will have to accept that the Lakers are too talented to follow a simple offensive model that ignores the strengths of his teammates, and D’Antoni will have to settle for fewer pick-and-roll actions and more post-ups for No. 12.
That’s the only way this would work.
<i>Stats used in this post are from NBA.com/Stats, MySynergySports.com and Basketball-Reference.com.</i>
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Pau Gasol left his exit meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday with an increased sense that he may have played his last game with the Lakers.
“The future is uncertain,” Gasol said. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s a possibility that I could be gone and there’s a possibility that I could stay. I don’t know the exact percentages of it. But I’m prepared for either way.
“I understand the challenges that the franchise is facing, the decisions that they have to make in order to keep the team in the direction that they want to -- looking at the present and the future and also understanding the business side of it. So, it’s a lot going on. I wish things were a little simpler, but they’re not. So we’ll see.”
If the Lakers keep next season's payroll at about $100 million, as it was in 2012-13, the team would owe about $85 million in additional luxury-tax penalties because of the more punitive stipulations in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Could Gasol and the rest of the Lakers' major pieces all be back next season? Kupchak said that possibility is “in play.”
“We haven’t ruled anything out as of now,” he said.
Yet Kupchak used similar language to admit that the opposite is also a possibility: "When you lose, everybody is in play ... whether it's Pau or anybody else, we'll look for ways to improve the team."
Gasol's contract has one year remaining at $19.3 million. From a financial perspective, the assumption was that the Lakers would try to trade his expiring deal or opt to use their one-time amnesty provision on the 12-year veteran.
“(Kupchak) couldn’t really tell me, ‘Hey, thanks for everything you’ve done, it’s more likely you’re going to be gone,’ or no, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to stay here. We’re going to make it happen,’” Gasol said. “Which is to be expected. I appreciate Mitch’s honesty and everything that he’s done and the franchise has done for the last two years to keep me here and have me on the team.”
The two-year time frame Gasol was referring to started with his nearly being traded and has included a second-round exit from the playoffs last season, coach Mike Brown's being fired early this season, and a first-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs last week.
Gasol, who turns 33 in July, said his experience with the Lakers changed significantly after the three-way trade between the Lakers, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets was vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern on the eve of the first day of training camp for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
As he sat in front of his locker following the media scrum he said, “Look at what the Kings did last year. They got into the playoffs as the eight seed and won the Stanley Cup. We’re trying to do the same thing.”
Bryant attended a number of the Los Angeles Kings' playoff games with his daughters during their magical and improbable run to the Stanley Cup last summer and didn’t understand why it couldn’t be duplicated on the basketball court this summer.
Of course, that was before Bryant was lost for the season and we found out that Steve Nash's assortment of injuries weren’t just day-to-day bad but taking-two-epidurals-just-to-practice bad. Nevertheless, Bryant’s stance doesn’t change and neither does the Lakers’ goal heading into the playoffs.
After the Lakers clinched a playoff berth that Bryant promised would happen back when the Lakers were well below .500, he tweeted, “And to think some said we wouldn’t make it.. #keepcalm #believe #playoffs now #makehistory”
He later tweeted, “Playoff promise fulfilled #ontothenext”
It doesn’t make sense that the Lakers will be entering the playoffs, without Bryant and possibly without Nash, as confident as they’ve been all season. But that’s exactly the way the Lakers were feeling after their 99-95 overtime win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday to clinch the seventh seed and a first round match-up against the San Antonio Spurs which begins on Sunday.
They are finally moving the ball the way Mike D’Antoni envisioned they could. They are finally playing defense with the kind of intensity that Dwight Howard hoped they would. And they are playing inside-out and relying on their bigs as Pau Gasol and Howard have pleaded for since November.
"You always backed me," Bryant said with intense appreciation.
Bryant was winding down from what can only be described as an epic performance by the 17-year veteran -- a season-high 47 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals with only 1 turnover, a statistical line never before recorded in the league, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
But World Peace and the rest of Bryant's teammates might not quite have his back the way he thinks they do.
After 79 games and with the Lakers on the edge of a playoff berth, holding a one-game lead over Utah for the No. 8 spot in the West with only three left to play, Bryant's teammates don't seem to be content to just feed the "All hail Kobe, the living legend" propaganda machine and ride his coattails into the playoffs.
If the season is worth saving at this point after all the trials and tribulations every player and coach in the locker room has gone through, it has to be saved as a team, the right way. If it's going to come down to Bryant playing hero ball from now until when the Lakers' season ends, there's a sense that Bryant's teammates would rather have an early summer if it means acting as the stage crew for Bryant's one-man show.
"It's bittersweet," Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant's dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. "Because, I think it's spectacular and it's very impressive and it's remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That's incredible. On the other hand, I'm a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I've always been [like that]. That's just how I perceive this game.
"But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it's not something that you do every night, of course."
Gasol was quick to add context to his quotations, making it clear from his tone that this wasn't an issue of jealousy for the attention Bryant would receive for the feat, or a lack of appreciation for the talent Bryant has. And Gasol is certainly aware he might not be a Laker today and definitely would not be a Laker finally getting consistent post touches in Mike D'Antoni's system if it wasn't for Bryant supporting him.
Well, one player on the team decided it, to be specific.
"He just tells me to just run to the post and take it and screw everything else, basically," Gasol said of Kobe Bryant's instructions. "That's not my personality. I like my team and my coaching staff to want me to be there, instead of positioning myself there, but hey. ... It helps that Kobe, who has a lot of control over what happens out there, wants me to be there and sees that it works and is supportive."
Gasol was on ESPNLA 710 radio in Los Angeles after shootaround Tuesday, and host Mychal Thompson implored Gasol to be selfish and take 15 to 20 shots in the post per game. Gasol replied with the obvious: "That would be a big change from one or two."
The thing is, a Gasol reclamation project over the last four games plus any potential postseason run for L.A. would not only perhaps save Gasol from becoming trade bait in the offseason, but it would help Bryant do away with the lingering stigma that he's an impossible teammate to coexist with, and earn coach Mike D'Antoni some credit for being malleable and finally coming around.
Bryant, who can sniff out a storyline from a mile away and is as masterful as manipulating a narrative as they come, smartly gave shine to D'Antoni for the Gasol resurgence, even if it originally came at his own urging.
"I think Mike just realized what he has in Pau," Bryant said after the game. "During that stretch there, second quarter when I was out of the game, during a timeout he said, 'Guys, we just got to pound the ball inside to Pau. We just got to go to him. Stop trying to do things on the pick-and-roll, just go inside, let him muscle us.'"
For a guy who called the straight post-up play the least efficient play in basketball at his introductory news conference, that statement alone shows how much he has been willing to change his philosophies to match his personnel instead of being stubborn and insisting it be the other way around.
Gasol, for his part, tried it the other way by launching 3-pointers in the early going, limited to being a straight facilitator at other times and even swallowing the demotion to backup center off the bench for a brief while, but now he's smart enough to see this is his last chance to prove that not only is he important in the present, but he can be in the future.
But whatever the Los Angeles Lakers had left was left on the court Friday night in a gutty 86-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies that kept their playoff hopes alive another night.
"There's no point in being all excited to get to the first round to get your [butt] kicked. You want to be going into the playoffs feeling like you're playing well, playing against top competition, so you're ready for a No. 1 seed."
These are the most desperate times of the season for the Lakers. All the turmoil, all the drama, all the intrigue and dysfunction that has landed them in this ugly place -- fighting for their playoff lives with a roster full of future Hall of Famers -- all that is the past.
The last six games of the season ultimately will determine whether they go down as one of the biggest flops in recent history, whether they're just a garden-variety disappointment or, maybe just maybe, there's a little magic in there after all.
And fittingly, with their backs up against the proverbial wall, the Lakers relied on the 1-2 punch that led them to back-to-back NBA titles not so long ago.
Bryant and Gasol combined to score 43 of the Lakers' 86 points Friday. They made the big plays and the small ones. They facilitated for the rest of the team, they organized the offense, but mostly they just led the way.
"You've seen us run it over the years," Bryant said. "It really is unstoppable."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, with just Bryant and Gasol on the court together (and Dwight Howard off the court) Friday night, the Lakers had a plus/minus rating of plus-46 over 12 minutes. With just Bryant and Gasol on the court this season (and Howard and Nash off the court), the Lakers have a plus-20.4 rating, the highest of any of their two-man combinations.
Gasol will continue to increase his work load and return to the lineup when he is ready and pain free.
The Lakers, who don't return to game action until Friday night at home when they host the Washington Wizards, have gone 13-7 with Gasol out of the lineup.
"We're not going there," D'Antoni said. "We're not going there. We're not going there. We don't need to go there yet, do we? We can have that uproar later on. OK?"
The uproar he was referring to was the potential backlash that could occur when Pau Gasol returns from the plantar fascia injury in his right foot and D'Antoni chooses to bring the four-time All-Star off the bench.
Gasol graduated from elliptical machine workouts to running on the "AlterG" anti-gravity treadmill with 75 percent of his body weight Thursday. The Lakers' plan is to have Gasol gradually add weight day by day to the point where Gasol is able to do on-court running next week when he accompanies the team on their three-game trip.
Whether Gasol starts or not, D'Antoni said it would be unlikely the Lakers' forward would play during the trip to Orlando, Atlanta and Indiana.
"I don't think so," D'Antoni said. "I don't think that's the plan. Now, if trainers tell me he's ready to go, but I don't think we're there yet."
Gasol was originally estimated to be sidelined 6-8 weeks.
Tuesday marked the fourth week that Gasol has been out since injuring his foot against Brooklyn. The Lakers have gone 8-5 in the 13 games without Gasol, heading into Friday's game against the Raptors.
If Gasol returns on the early end of that timeline, he could be back the week of March 18 at Phoenix or at home against Washington.
D'Antoni says he is already thinking about the prospect of having the two-time champion back at his disposal.
"You think about it every day," D'Antoni said. "That's what coaches do.
"In my mind [there is a plan], but it never works out, so we'll see how that goes. You can't predict anything. When he comes back, obviously he'll be a big part of what we do and getting back to the level that he was at when he got hurt. If he does that, he's going to help a heck of a lot."
D'Antoni told reporters earlier in the season that he believed the team performed better with Gasol backing up Dwight Howard at center than putting the two on the floor together, and Earl Clark has become the regular starter at power forward since Gasol went out.
Gasol is averaging 13.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 34.7 minutes per game overall this season. In seven games coming off the bench, Gasol is averaging 13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 28.7 minutes per game.
Gasol is shooting 53.0 percent from the field coming off the bench, compared to 43.8 percent from the field as a starter this season.