Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Bryant backs the Gasol reclamation project
By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- In pretty much the definition of a late-developing wrinkle, with it being Game No. 78 of 82 on the Los Angeles Lakers' schedule and all, the team decided to give the oft-injured, trade-speculated, over-the-hill (at least by reputation) Pau Gasol a chance to be the four-time All-Star, two-time champion, pride-of-Spain that he is.
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."
Pau Gasol got more touches in the post Tuesday than he had in quite some time, making him feel as comfortable as he has been on the court in a while.
The direction paid off with 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks from Gasol in the Lakers' 104-96 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday, but the numbers aren't nearly as important as the revelation of what an empowered Gasol can mean for the Lakers.
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.
"I haven't gotten to the post as much as I did tonight all year long," Gasol said. "So, it felt good. Let's see if we can have a little bit of consistency in that aspect."
It led to just his fifth 20-plus point game of the season, but he's trending upward. Gasol has shot 50 percent or better from the field in six of his past seven games after reaching the same mark in just six of his 13 games before that.
"That's my dude," Bryant said. "I know what he brings to the table. He's 2010 Pau now. For sure."
Now the question is, how does the team keep this up?
"I think it is recognition," Gasol said, hopefully. "I think it is something that you try to stick to what works and what is effective and what you get points off and from. I think that this has been going well, so let's see. It's not something [that should be exclusive]. We don't have to rely on one thing. We have too many weapons, too many things. But you have to use and utilize the different aspects, the different people that we have here in order to have a certain level of balance and play well as a team."
One of those different weapons that hasn't been mentioned yet is Dwight Howard, of course. Howard has been the one clamoring for straight post touches all season, and Gasol's breakout performance Tuesday came on a night when Howard played just 33 minutes to Gasol's 39 because of foul trouble.
If Howard can't accept it and, in turn, lets it affect him to the point that his defense suffers, you can forget about the narrative changing for Bryant, D'Antoni and Gasol. All three of them will be looped in along with Howard as principal players in the Great Lakers Debacle of 2012-13.
Howard, for his part, seems to be of the mindset that the more post touches for anybody on the team, the better.
"I think for me and him, we just get into a rhythm down there on the post," Howard said. "When we do, I think it's tough for teams to guard us."
And Howard, who still got 13 shots to Gasol's 15 despite playing six fewer minutes, sounded like a guy who views Gasol as an ally when he has the ball in his hands.
"We always look for each other," Howard said.
Now Gasol will look for the team to see that this style of play is beneficial not only to him, but for everybody else, too.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," Gasol said. "I'm getting better conditioning, a better feel out there. I position myself well also, better. It's just getting to the positions where I'm most effective so I can operate and make plays and prove that it works."