EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — When Mike D’Antoni brought his up-tempo offense to Los Angeles, some basketball pundits began to wonder whether Lakers All-Star forward Pau Gasol would be a fit in the system.
And sure enough, just a handful of games into the D’Antoni era, Gasol found himself benched.
On Friday night in a 106-98 defeat in Memphis, Gasol committed a foul late in the third quarter and was removed from the game. He didn’t return.
Asked afterwards why he didn’t put Gasol back in, head coach D’Antoni’s reply was blunt: “Because I was trying to win the game.”
Saturday night, all eyes — especially D’Antoni’s — were on The Spaniard at American Airlines Arena as he tried to rebound — literally — from the fiasco in Memphis. They had a lot to look at.
Gasol scored 13 points and grabbed nine boards in just 28 minutes of play as the Lakers mauled Dallas, 115-89.
He once again sat out the fourth quarter — this time as a reward for excellent play.
“Pau responded like the great player he is and will continue to be for us,” D’Antoni said at practice Monday.
The last year has been tumultuous for the four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion.
Last December, he was traded to the Houston Rockets in a three-team deal that netted the Lakers Chris Paul. After the trade was vetoed and Paul was traded to the crosstown rival Clippers, Gasol was still a Laker — but he really didn’t feel like one anymore.
His name was mentioned in trade rumors right up to the last moment of the trading deadline, and once again during the offseason, it was thought he would be a big trading piece in any deal for Dwight Howard. He wasn’t, but it didn’t change the fact that Gasol had seen his Laker life change dramatically.
“It’s been different,” he said. “It’s been different. But I’m just looking at (all of) it as a learning experience. Life is a learning experience. There’s always something new coming up — whether it’s good or not so good — and you just have to adjust to it.
“I’m used to a lot of things (now) and I’m sure there are going to be other things coming that I haven’t lived or experienced. It will be another test, and you just have to always be open to another challenge in life.”
D’Antoni was happy that Gasol and the rest of the squad responded with a solid performance vs. Dallas that might help the Lakers get back on the right track.
“I think it’s a little bit of a shock to the system when you change coaches,” D’Antoni said. “We had a great talk Saturday and a film session and I think they came out and did what we talked about.
“Hopefully we can keep things at that level.”
Gasol feels that the learning process will be on-going.
“We’re all trying to figure things out,” Pau said after Monday’s workout. “We just have to learn how things are going to work in this offense; find the right spot on the floor and things will be more comfortable for everyone.”
He also addressed the tendinitis in his knee and the effect it’s had on his start this season.
“I’ve had it all year, since training camp,” he admitted. “It’s bothering me a little, but I’ll play through it and try to keep it under control. It’s a little limiting, but there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t want to stop now.”
And his teammates don’t want him to, either.
Dwight Howard, who experienced a taste of
the wrong type of spotlight last season in Orlando, says he and the rest of the
team have Gasol’s back.
“Sure we do,” Howard said after Tuesday
morning’s shootaround. “We try to keep his spirits up and do what we can to
make things better for him.
“Everybody has their own way of dealing with negative
things. Last season, with what I went through, I tried to get away from it.
People might say that’s running away, but it wasn’t. It was me taking time to
get my head right and keep things level in my mind. I’m sure Pau is dealing
with it as well as he can.”
Metta World Peace, who’s resurrected the offensive part of his game since the firing of Mike Brown, said that good times or bad, the team never lost faith in Gasol and his skills.
“Never. Not at all,” said MWP. “He’s still seven feet, right? He still rebounds, right? He still can make that little spin move to get his shots, right. And he can still pass, right? Then there’s nothing to worry about at all.”