- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Pau Gasol went back to the bench and will stay there for the foreseeable future.
Despite Gasol scoring a season-high 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting in the Los Angeles Lakers' 108-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said the team will be best served with Gasol as a substitute.
"We got to go small," D'Antoni said before the Lakers played the Chicago Bulls on Monday. "That's just the way it is. It's after he had a great game -- it's not him. I talked to him about it and he understands where we have to go and we got to do it.
"He's going to come in off the bench at the five primarily and if we can sneak some minutes in with (Gasol and Dwight Howard) both together, good. If we can't, we can't. But, we just have to do that as a team."
"I'm not excited about it," Gasol said after the Lakers' 95-83 loss to the Bulls. "It's not something that I've ever been – coming off the bench. But right now I'm more worried about us as a team and us struggling, so it would be selfish of me talking about how I feel of something in particular."
Gasol finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench.
"He played better than when he played in the starting lineup," Kobe Bryant said. "He was in the post and was more free and has more command in the paint. As long as it works. We may have to iron that out. I don't know."
Gasol was asked if the bench role would have any reflection on his future in L.A.
"I have no idea. I can't really worry too much about something that is out of my hands, so, I'm just going to no matter what stay positive and do my best. Like I said, it's not something that I'm too thrilled about."
Gasol said D'Antoni spoke to him about the lineup change Monday morning.
"I wasn't expecting it," Gasol said when asked about the timing of the switch.
Earl Clark, who went from being buried in D'Antoni's rotation to putting up three double-doubles in his last six games once injuries to Howard (shoulder), Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip) opened up playing time for the fourth-year forward, started at power forward against Chicago and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Gasol, averaging career lows in points (12.6 per game) and field goal percentage (43.2 percent) in his 12th season, balked at the idea of coming off the bench when D'Antoni floated it in the press last week.
"I've never come off the bench in my career," said Gasol last week, who started his first 345 games as a Laker and 816 of 823 games in his 12-year career coming into Monday. "(The Miami loss) was my first game off the bench with the Lakers, maybe a couple other games due to injuries, but that's it. I've been a starter my entire career. I've been a star starter my entire career, so I want to continue to be a star starter."
Gasol didn't indicate after Monday's loss that he wanted to be traded, saying,
"I want this to work for us. I feel like I'm a part of this team, a part of this franchise. I'd love to play here for as many years as possible because I identify myself with the team and I want it to work."
D'Antoni said he wasn't sure if he "sold" Gasol on the lineup change before implementing it, but stressed that it was a decision based on changing the Lakers' style of play rather than an indictment on the former four-time All-Star.
"He's one of the top centers, so it's not anything against him," D'Antoni said. "It's better for us right now to do this and have this identity and try to work through it and see what we can do. Things do change and things do happen. I don't know. I can't see the future. But, we're ready to go forward like this."
D'Antoni indicated that it will be rare to see Gasol and Howard on the court together with the new rotation.
"Right now, we're better when we're small," D'Antoni said. "So, it's hard during a game to say, 'OK, now we're better when we're big.' It's hard to do that. You have to have an identity. We got to create the identity and we have to be able to play that way and there will be ebbs and flows of the game ...
"There will be times out there that we lose and we get beat because we don't have enough height, but you can't keep going back and forth and guessing and hoping. We are going to be who we are and we're going to play a certain way and I hope that's good enough."
Meanwhile, the league's decision on Monday to rescind the second technical foul that Howard picked up Sunday that resulted in his ejection in the first half against Toronto wasn't good enough for the Lakers' star center.
"Too little, too late," Howard said before the Bulls game.
Howard picked up his second technical foul of the game with 1:18 remaining in the second quarter when he and Toronto's Alan Anderson were assessed a double technical foul after getting tangled up following a Metta World Peace free throw that cut the Raptors' lead to 48-44.
"I think we get to play the second half (against Toronto) over," D'Antoni joked. "I think that comes with it."
D'Antoni did not pile on to referee Eli Roe for making the call that was overturned by the league.
"It happens," D'Antoni said. "It's one of those things that I think (Roe) forgot he had one (technical). It was just one quick, 'OK, let's settle this down.' It happens sometimes."
Howard now has five technical fouls for the year. If his total reaches 16 on the season, it will result in an automatic one-game suspension for Howard.
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