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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Los Angeles Lakers prefer to keep struggling center Pau Gasol and believe he eventually will have success in coach Mike D'Antoni's system, but his recent comments and subpar play have caused them to begin weighing whether to make him available before the NBA's annual trade deadline in February, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
The Lakers have yet to engage in any Gasol-related trade discussions with other teams, sources told ESPN.com. But Gasol's recent comments about his frustrations with his role in the Lakers' offense, his impending free agency, and his struggles offensively and particularly defensively have essentially forced the team to consider its options.
Gasol had something of a bounce-back game in Friday's 122-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and made a point of saying that "you always have to make yourself responsible" for your own play and that "when you start pointing fingers at other sides or other directions, you're making a mistake."
|Kobe Bryant has always been an important ally and defender for Pau Gasol.|
That was a noticeable shift in tone from his comments earlier in the week, which had raised eyebrows inside and outside the organization. On Thursday, Gasol told the Los Angeles Times, "The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness. When I'm not getting the ball where I want to, where I'm most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity."
D'Antoni responded to those comments after Friday's shootaround, saying, "Everybody, to a man, we've just got to play harder and worry about things less."
The coach also held a team meeting Friday to address the situation, in which he urged Gasol or anyone else who had an issue with his coaching to speak to him directly, sources told ESPN.
The Lakers are still weighing their options regarding Gasol both this season and this summer, when he will be an unrestricted free agent. They have communicated to him in various ways that they remain interested in him beyond this season, sources said.
Just how much they would be able to pay him, in the wake of the two-year, $48.5 million extension the Lakers awarded Kobe Bryant earlier this month, remains to be seen. Gasol is in the final year of a contract that pays him $19.3 million this season.
The Lakers' main objective with every personnel move this year has been to maintain their financial flexibility over the next three summers, when several premiere free agents will become available. Sources maintain the Lakers would be reluctant to surrender that hard-fought flexibility in a potential deal for Gasol or any other player. Yet it is believed the Lakers would consider taking back salary commitments for the 2014-15 season if they received a strong offer featuring a player who could significantly help them this season and beyond or other assets to help them reload around Bryant.
Several teams have assets that fit that description, including the New York Knicks, who could offer Tyson Chandler (owed $28.7 million over the next two seasons), and the Chicago Bulls, who could offer Carlos Boozer (owed $32.1 million over the next two seasons). The Lakers undoubtedly would want other assets in return for Gasol. But the Lakers are unlikely to consider any deal that cuts into their spending power in the summers of 2015 and 2016.
Bryant has always been an important ally and defender for Gasol. On Friday, Bryant seemed to make a point of getting the 33-year-old Spaniard more involved offensively, particularly in the spots he is most comfortable receiving the ball.
"He's going to help me, I'm going to help him, we're going to help the rest of the guys and that's how the team is going to be better," Gasol said.
"We play a lot of two-man game. It's pretty natural for us. We have a good connection and we try to get each other going. So we're going to see a lot more of that coming up."
Gasol scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting Friday night but is shooting a career-low 41.7 percent from the field and averaging just 14.4 points per game, well below his career numbers of 51.5 percent shooting and 18.3 points a game.
Asked about Bryant's public support for him over the years, Gasol said, "Yes, he does. And I highly appreciate it. It means a lot, coming from him. He doesn't do that for many people. So I take pride in that."
For his part, Bryant said he wasn't overly concerned with Gasol and D'Antoni's latest dustup.
"That's every year. They're like an old couple," Bryant said. "That's every year. It's not really anything new. It's not a big deal.
"He can play a myriad of positions. I think having a balance is always the best way. He's obviously phenomenal in the post. He's phenomenal at the elbows. He's incredible at picking and popping. So, it's finding a balance and being able to do all of those things. I don't really see it as being too complicated."
The Lakers continue a four-game trip Saturday at Charlotte. Bryant has assumed the role of primary ball handler and likely will continue as such with Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar all out with injuries.