Monday, April 18, 2011
Pau Gasol gets wake-up call
By Stephen A. Smith ESPNLosAngeles.com
At some point, all things that evolve around the Los Angeles Lakers aren't about the game's preeminent star with five rings, a coach with 11 rings, a franchise desperately hunting for ring No. 17 or a city showing zero interest in achieving anything less.
Pau Gasol had a difficult time with Carl Landry and the Hornets throughout Game 1.
There comes a point when it's time to get down and dirty, when nastiness usurps friendship, decorum or the proverbial team-first mentality -- in an effort to win playoff games. And if that time has not arrived for Pau Gasol, perhaps he needs to grab a sleeping bag, call Kobe Bryant and tell the franchise player to make room: The Bryant household's about to have a new guest for a few days.
Perhaps just dinner will do. Maybe it will require a wakeup call at dawn, along with one of those 5:30 a.m. workout sessions.
Whatever the case, something clearly needs to be done to wake Gasol up from the state he appeared to be in amid the trouncing the Lakers suffered at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday afternoon.
It's one thing to have registered just eight points. It's quite another to do so on just 2-for-9 shooting. But if Gasol doesn't heed Phil Jackson's in-game wake-up call -- in which the coach basically told a reporter on national television that he was looking for the big man to do something, anything -- we might as well put an end to all this talk about a Lakers' three-peat right now.
Forget about the Lakers winning the championship again this season; they won't win a series if Gasol emulates the apathy and indifference he displayed in front of America in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on Sunday.
"Pau is our guy," Bryant told reporters after L.A.'s 109-100 loss to New Orleans. "He's the next in line. The responsibility and the pressure come along with that."
Amen! But not so much.
Gasol deserves every bit of criticism he got from Bryant and Jackson after Sunday's loss. When you're 7-feet tall, considered one of the best power forwards in the game, blessed with two championships, it is simply unacceptable to be outplayed by Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry and some bench-warmer named Aaron Gray.
We could be fair to Gasol and include his explanation for such a disastrous performance, but why bother? Especially when someone averaging less than four points per game on the season (Gray) is made to look like the second coming of Tim Duncan. Under such circumstances, time is better spent analyzing what it will take to avoid a repeat performance.
Jackson did his part earlier in the day, putting his team through a two-hour film session before practice, reminding them of how elementary kids get treated since the Lakers' effort in Game 1 was, well, elementary. Chances are, such a debilitating experience will wake up whatever lazy demons reside inside of Gasol so he can make amends for wasting folks' money and time on Sunday.
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But aside from that, the responsibility falls on someone else's shoulders, and that someone is the exact individual who was so quick to remind Gasol that he was "next in line."
If Gasol is next, that obviously means Bryant is first. So maybe it's incumbent upon Bryant to try something new.
Rather than trying to take all the responsibility on his shoulders in an effort to bail out the Lakers in Game 1, maybe Bryant should've kept feeding the ball to Gasol in the post. Maybe, just maybe, if he kept giving Gasol the ball, if he had demanded production -- if he had made Gasol's ineptness too difficult to ignore -- we would've seen a different result.
Maybe if Bryant makes more of a concerted effort to force the spotlight on his frontline the way he brings it upon himself, we wouldn't have to see Jackson marveling at the inexcusability of Gasol being outplayed by Gray.
If it doesn't require significant time, it'll definitely demand a certain level of motivation. Supposedly, pursuit of a third-straight championship would do the trick.
Since that is in question now, maybe some quality time spent with Bryant will do wonders for Gasol. If not, perhaps the embarrassment of getting bounced out of the first round by a No. 7-seed will have to qualify.
That's assuming, of course, that Gasol and the Lakers even care that much anymore. Perhaps they don't. And if that's the case, maybe a little nastiness by Ron Artest could provoke change.
At least one member of the Lakers' frontline is capable of that much.
Follow Stephen A. Smith on Twitter: @stephenasmith.