Amid rising pressure and growing trade speculation smothering the ailing Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant offered his strongest public support to date to back the Spaniard with whom he has won two NBA championships.
"I love Pau like a brother," Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Tuesday. "I really do. I want him to dominate like I know he can."
"I want him to dig in and be determined, not discouraged," Bryant continued. "We should go to him more on the post because he can dominate from there as he has to the tune of two rings. I'm sure we will adjust and figure out a balance when he comes back healthy."
The Lakers announced Tuesday that Gasol would sit out the team's game against the Houston Rockets with tendinitis in his knees. There is no set timetable for how long Gasol will be out. Antawn Jamison will start in his place.
Bryant and Gasol had a lengthy summit Monday night at the team hotel in Houston.
"I know his knees have been hurting and that can be frustrating because you can't do physically what you are used to," Bryant said Tuesday. "I just don't want him to sulk about the change of things."
Gasol is averaging 12.6 points and shooting 42 percent from the floor, both career lows, in new Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's offense. Both he and D'Antoni have acknowledged that his role is and will be quite different than what it has historically been for the Lakers.
ESPNLosAngeles.com reported earlier Tuesday that Gasol is not sitting out Tuesday's game because a trade involving the former four-time All-Star is in the works. But a source told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has recently spoken to Gasol's representatives to let them know that the team will have no choice but to explore possible trade scenarios if Gasol is unable to adjust to D'Antoni's system.
Tuesday's comments from Bryant echo similar statements he made last season in Gasol's defense. As trade speculation heated up around the talented 7-footer, Bryant publicly called on Lakers management to either trade him or pull Gasol out of all trade talks so that he could focus on basketball.
"I wish (Lakers) management would come out and either trade him or not trade him," Bryant said last February. "It's just tough for a player to give his all when you don't know if you're going to be here tomorrow. I'd rather them not trade him at all but if they're going to do something, I wish they would just ... do it.
"You can't have one of our pillars not knowing if he's going to be here or not. Do something. One way or another, do something."
Bryant felt the need to do so again Tuesday because of the way the Lakers' struggles this season seem to be falling inordinately, and somewhat unfairly, on Gasol.
After the Lakers' 113-103 loss to the Orlando Magic, a game in which Gasol went to the bench with the Lakers up 84-83 with 6:07 remaining in the fourth quarter and stayed there as they lost the lead and then the game, Bryant was asked about Gasol's situation.
"Put your big-boy pants on," Bryant said after the loss that dropped the team's record to 8-9. "Just adjust. Just adjust. You can't whine about it. You can't complain about it.
"You have to master what it is that we're trying to do here and Pau is talented enough and he's good enough to be able to do that."
Bryant was later asked whether he was worried about "losing Gasol," as D'Antoni had suggested in his press conference.
"We're not going to lose him," Bryant said. "That's just not going to happen. I've been around him long enough. I know how to deal with him."
Their game against the Rockets is the start of a particularly tough stretch for the Lakers -- eight of their next 10 are on the road. L.A. is 1-4 away from Staples Center this season.
The Lakers called up rookie big man Robert Sacre from the Los Angeles D-Fenders, their D-League affiliate, Monday as big-man insurance for their bench. Forward Jordan Hill, who missed the Lakers' last game as a coaches' decision, could also find minutes in the rotation.
"Somebody's woe is somebody's gain and they got to take advantage of it," D'Antoni said.
"We got to get him healthy. Whatever it takes -- one game, two games, 10 games -- I don't know. It's day to day but he's got to be healthy. It wasn't fair (to him). He's trying to battle through some stuff and in this league; you just can't do that."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and ESPN.com's Marc Stein was used in this report.