In a recent sit-down interview with Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Times’ T.J. Simers asked some very pointed questions which gave insight to Gasol’s future with the team should the situation surrounding him not change.
If you haven’t been following the recent background drama surrounding the Lakers, Pau Gasol is upset about having his starting position taken away from him, and also being benched numerous times in crunch time situations this season.
Simers: “If this coach stays and Dwight Howard remains with the Lakers, what about you?”
Gasol: “It would be hard to me to deal with another season knowing the facts you just mentioned.”
Simers: “So do you ask for a fresh start elsewhere?”
Gasol: “It’s a possibility, yes.”
Gasol went on to say that he wouldn’t request a trade this season, and that he’s committed to this team right now:
“I’m not a quitter. Just because things look better on the other side of the fence, I’m not going to take the easy way out. I have a certain level of loyalty, and I’ve been through a lot of great, amazing things. And there have been others that have been hurtful. But that’s life.”
When given the opportunity to put down Mike D’Antoni for misusing him in his system, Gasol refused to do so:
“He has his philosphy and system, and the Lakers hired him. It’s not his fault. His philosophy is to play with one big guy and four guys spread out, so then he had to make a decision: Dwight or Pau?”
Simers went on to deduce that the decision was quite easy for the coach because the Lakers are trying to appease Dwight Howard so he’ll return next season, to which Gasol replied, “That is correct.”
Gasol isn’t blaming Howard either, though, as he truly believes the two can flourish together:
“Dwight is a huge presence defensively. But in a perfect world I’d love to see us dominating as an interior couple, thereby making everything easier for our teammates.”
“I’m always trying to pass to Dwight to get him going. He hasn’t been very effective from the post, so I want to give him easy shots and get him into rhythm. You know he’s going to get fouled and then he’ll make one out of two.”
“Nothing is going to change, but I have no doubt we could coexist and dominate every single game. I believe 100% if I was starting inside with Dwight we could make the playoffs. I just don’t know if coming off the bench gives the team a chance to be better and win more games.”
I have to agree with Gasol a bit here. Earlier this season I wrote an article on how Pau Gasol should definitely be featured down in the post more by himself as a center, but should also remain a starter. Additionally, Gasol should be able to play significant minutes at the power forward position alongside Howard if the team is to truly be most effective and successful.
I then conceded that with Earl Clark’s emergence, perhaps it would be better if Clark started games, but Gasol was still necessary for the Lakers in crunch time situations because of his elite half-court presence.
However, it’s clear that Mike D’Antoni has an issue at the center position because he sorely needs Dwight Howard’s defensive presence, but Pau Gasol’s offensive presence as well.
In the same breath, with opposing teams playing the “small ball” style of basketball in which Mike D’Antoni largely pioneered (at least in recent history) and promoted, it places him in a tough position because it’s a style of play he believes the team can truly be the most effective with.
To Gasol’s credit, even though it’s been a small sample size, during the three games in which Dwight Howard recently sat out, Gasol averaged 20.0 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Pau hasn’t lost his confidence, though, and manages to put it all into perspective:
“I’m fortunate to be doing what I am for a living and being highly rewarded for it. But if hurts me that this unique opportunity we have with such good players is not being maximized.”
“But I’m not going to let it affect me. In a way he’s (D’Antoni) messing with my season, but not my career. I know what I’ve accomplished and I still feel like I’m one of the best players in the world.”
Regardless, the situation remains that Pau Gasol isn’t happy with his current role on the team and feels that he can be much more effective with significant minutes alongside Dwight Howard–even noting how he flourished alongside his brother, center Marc Gasol, in the London Olympics while playing for the Spanish national team. Not to mention that he had a relatively successful individual season last year playing alongside center Andrew Bynum (while averaging 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds).
Obviously, the Lakers didn’t make it far in the playoffs last season, and had previously been successful in the playoffs by utilizing Gasol at the center position and Lamar Odom at the power forward slot, while Andrew Bynum often sat out finishes of games. In that sense, even Phil Jackson opted for a smaller, more versatile lineup down the stretch of ballgames as opposed to a “twin towers” look.
The Lakers are unlikely to trade Gasol this season in fear of Dwight Howard leaving the team via free agency over the summer, which would essentially leave the Lakers with no elite big man. However, if Howard returns and D’Antoni continues to use Gasol in a manner that doesn’t allow him to be most effective in his eyes, it appears as though Pau may finally be ready to request a trade from the Lakers.
After being almost dealt for Chris Paul prior to last season, continually being involved in heavy trade rumors throughout the same season to the point that it affected his level of play and still being the number one talked about trade-bait, I honestly can’t blame him if he does.