A point of contention emerged again between Pau Gasol and Mike D’Antoni. But it had nothing to do with the offense, benching or his role.
It had to do with the details over an apparent conversation D’Antoni had with Gasol that showed everything is actually all right between the two.
“He got some oatmeal this morning and I said, ‘Nice choice,” D’Atoni said.
Gasol shot down that premise, saying he doesn’t eat oatmeal and didn’t even talk with D’Antoni during breakfast. Instead, Gasol said the two talked on the team bus.
These details, of course, are trivial. But it helps establish that some conversation took place, and it at least showed the two willing to exchange differing ideas without taking offense to it.
D’Antoni benched Gasol for the entire fourth quarter in the Lakers’ double-digit loss Friday to the Memphis Grizzlies, questioned his conditioning and then predicted he’d bounce back. Gasol respected D’Antoni’s demotion, pleaded for more looks in the posts and then suggested D’Antoni could shorten up his rotations to ensure he has more energy.
“We’re in this together,” Gasol said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be. It takes a little time to figure things out.”
Gasik’s 13 points on four of seven shooting in the Lakers’ 115-89 victory Saturday over the Dallas Mavericks featured everything the two wanted.
Gasol showed more aggression on defense. He ran immediately up the court following a missed shot. Gasol didn’t allow the number of touches to affect his overall focus and effort. Gasol also spent plenty of time before the game working on his three-point shooting and mid-range jumpers. Tie in Dwight Howard’s 15 points on five of 11 shooting, and the Lakers’ frontline suddenly looked forceful.
“They played great. They can dominate getting three shots or they can dominate getting 30 shots,” D’Antoni said. “It depends on everybody putting the energy out there. The team will guard you when they guard you, but something’s going to be open.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers made a deliberate attempt to run pick-and-roll with Gasol. They fed him early and often. The Lakers spaced the floor so he could shoot more than just mid-range jumpers.
“You want to be able to mix it up,” Gasol said. “I’m totally comfortable shooting jumpers, but I don’t want my game to depend on jumpers itself a lone. I’ll find ways. I just have to be proactive and put myself in a position to do that.”
The source of this immediate adjustment?
Well, the Lakers are a talented bunch. But it required both Gasol and D’Antoni to ensure their open criticism resulted in constructive changes instead of manufactured drama.
That’s why Kobe Bryant played both sides following the loss to Memphis. He supported Gasol’s plea for more post looks, while pointing out D’Antoni’s flexibility in his system.
“I don’t know if there was really much to resolve,” Bryant said. “It’s part of figuring things out. He wanted more touches in the post. One of the first things Mike said when he came here was look, ‘It’s a figuring it out process. If you feel like you’re standing around too much and not getting the ball in certain areas, say something.’ That’s really what it’s about. I’m sure there will be more occasions when the season goes on.”
That of course goes beyond Gasol. But with D’Antoni usually having forwards that space the floor and shoot jumpers, Gasol’s post presence will change.
“The system we run will be more beneficial to them whether they’re back to the basket or not,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think like the traditional. ‘I’ll run down, post up and then beat each other half to death and then make a decision.’ We’re going to move the ball and play pick and roll.”
D’Antoni found a particularly effective way to convince him. Whether it was deliberate or not, D’Antoni borrowed a line out of Phil Jackson’s book by motivating him through the media.
“Phil used to mess with me so much,” Gasol said, laughing. “I have a thick skin, so I can take whatever he dishes out.”
That’s debatable. Gasol conceded in years past Jackson’s so-called mind games sometimes irked him. I relayed to Gasol the explanation D’Antoni provided on why he benched him in the fourth quarter against Memphis: “I thought, I wanted to win this game.” Gasol sounded startled.
Still, Jackson tweaked Gasol out of affection and because he knew it sparked his attention. D’Antoni seems to be taking the same approach.
“I liked Pau yesterday even though I didn’t play him toward the end,” D’Antoni said. “He’s a talented big guy and a great guy. Everybody kind of has to find their rhythm and find security blankets out there. And I think we all will as we go forward.”
For Gasol and D’Antoni, that means a constant dialogue and exchange of ideas. This could mark the beginning of a good relationship.
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