Pau Gasol appreciates support
For the second consecutive season, his role has grown less defined as the presence of an All-Star big man -- Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum last season and teammate Dwight Howard this season -- has prevented him operating in the low post to his liking.
As a result, Gasol has put up his lowest numbers since entering the league in 2001.
It's important that your head coach has trust in you, and confidence in you, and respects your game, and wants you to be a big part of what he's trying to do. So it's a big plus.” -- Lakers forward Pau Gasol
And new coach Mike D'Antoni admitted in a recent interview with ESPN's Colin Cowherd that the four-time All-Star isn't necessarily a natural fit for his system. However, that's not the same thing as saying Gasol can't fit, and before Tuesday's 79-77 loss to the Indiana Pacers, D'Antoni expressed confidence in the Spaniard's ability to flourish under him.
"When Dwight goes out, (Gasol is) a great center," D'Antoni said. "You cannot find a center for 14 minutes like he can do it. So that is super positive. And with Dwight, he shoots the ball all the way out to the (3-point line). He's another 7-footer that can guard the rim. He's extremely smart. So there's no reason why he can't fit. ... He's a big part of what we're gonna do.
"I just don't see how a player as smart as he is, as talented as he is, as big as he is, doesn't fit into anybody's scheme. Then I've got to re-examine myself and think, 'I can't play with Pau Gasol?' C'mon. He's won two championships. I gotta rethink what I'm doing."
Those words of encouragement meant a lot to his player.
"It's important that your head coach has trust in you, and confidence in you, and respects your game, and wants you to be a big part of what he's trying to do," Gasol said after the Lakers practiced Thursday. "So, it's a big plus."
While appreciative of D'Antoni's support, Gasol acknowledged the often-frustrating learning curve remains in place.
"I'm trying to figure out how I can be effective and more productive within the system," Gasol said. "I try to get myself in positions where I'm more comfortable and where I can be more effective ... I've never been in a situation where I have to figure things out. I've always been in positions where I have to deliver and there's that responsibility on my shoulders to take the ball and deliver. Make plays for us, whether it's scoring or passing or whatever the case is. So it's a little different."
As Gasol has struggled, his name increasingly has surfaced in trade rumors. This is nothing new for the forward, who was actually included as part a rescinded 2011 preseason trade that would have sent him to the Houston Rockets. His future with the Lakers remained in flux that whole season and that uncertainty admittedly wore on him.
This season, however, Gasol is doing his best to remain positive about elements beyond his control.
"I think that the uncertainty of life itself, it's good to think about it sometimes," Gasol said. "Not just professionally, but personally. Mental health-wise. When you think about those things, if they don't happen to you directly, you tend to ignore them. Anything can happen (in life). So that's why you try to grab the moment and try to enjoy every step of the way, and that's hopefully the mindset you try to get to."
And in fairness, the Lakers' 7-8 record is also indicative of issues beyond Gasol. Asked after practice if the team is "starting to get it," D'Antoni responded with a quick "no," then expanded his remarks to illustrate some positives and negatives.
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"Within the numbers, there's some good stuff -- defensively, mostly -- that, in the long haul, will make us contenders," D'Antoni said. "In the short run, our offense is anemic right now. It's not very good. The ball doesn't move. We don't do a lot of things that we should be doing, and we gotta figure that out. Again, a little bit (should improve) when we get everybody back. But at the same time, we gotta get better than 77 points (against the Pacers). I mean, that's kind of ridiculous.
"Like any coach that comes into a new situation, you gotta break habits without a training camp. Not bad habits. It's just different habits. We want to play a different way. It takes a while. It's like when you start a new golf swing. The first couple times out, you feel pretty good and you're like, 'Oh, boy! This is great!' And by the fifth time out, you're going, 'Oh, man!' You gotta work through it."
Among those missing from action is two-time MVP Steve Nash. D'Antoni still doesn't know when the point guard will return from a left leg fracture, but the coach doesn't picture a long acclimation period once that happens.
D'Antoni, who worked to great success with Nash as part of the Phoenix Suns, also remains confident the eight-time All-Star's presence will immediately alleviate some issues.
"We gotta get him back," D'Antoni said. "Even in Phoenix, when he went out, we had trouble hitting 100 points. I hope he has the same effect here. Don't know that yet. But his effect's gonna be big. But if we have these problems when he's out there, then we need to sit down and we'll need to examine some stuff. But I suspect a lot of this stuff will go away."