EL SEGUNDO — Filling Pau Gasol’s free time hardly involves scrolling the net to see if his name stays attached to trade rumors.
Lately, Gasol’s spent those moments on the team plane and before going to sleep reading Mike Krzyzewski’s book titled, “Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life.” He’s only reached Chapter 3, but the page-turning experience has given Gasol enough of an impression.
“So far, it’s been good and positive,” Gasol said.
One of the earliest anecdotes involves Krzyzewksi’s revelation that he has all the players exchange their home and cell phone numbers so everyone in the program remains reachable at all time. Such a practice, in theory, then creates a stronger bond where players feel more inclined to stay in touch. It also makes them easier to reach each other in times of need.
“I like that,” Gasol said. “It’s something that a professional team should do more of.”
It’s unclear if Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni would adopt the practice even if he served as an assistant under Krzyzewski for both the 2008 and 2012 U.S. men’s basketball Olympic teams. But D’Antoni connected with Gasol another way.
As Gasol continuously struggles on adapting to D’Antoni’s fast-paced, pick-and-roll offense, the Lakers coach expressed a vote of confidence that everything will work out. The words struck Gasol the same way Krzyzewksi’a book has.
“It’s important that your head coach has trust in you, and confidence in you, and respects your game, and wants you to be a big part of what he’s trying to do,” said Gasol, who’s averaging a career-low 13.1 points on 42.3 percent shooting. “So, it’s a big plus.”
Gasol has encountered a tough week.
D’Antoni benched Gasol in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ loss Saturday at Memphis where he posted single digits and showed poor effort for the second consecutive game. Gasol’s play and Antawn Jamison’s season-high 17 points prompted D’Antoni to explain the benching this way: “I thought I wanted to win the game.” D’Antoni then conceded in a radio interview Tuesday that the four-time All-Star doesn’t the represent the “ideal” player for his offense because of his speed and Dwight Howard’s inside presence.
Before the Lakers’ 79-77 loss Tuesday to the Indiana Pacers, though, D’Antoni shared other sentiments. He spoke on behalf of the Lakers’ front office that the team isn’t planning to trade Gasol. D’Antoni also expressed confidence both Gasol and himself could make the necessary adjustments to make him work in the system.
“When Dwight goes out, (Gasol is) a great center,” D’Antoni said. “You cannot find a center for 14 minutes like he can do it. So that is super positive. And with Dwight, he shoots the ball all the way out to the (3-point line). He’s another 7-footer that can guard the rim. He’s extremely smart. So there’s no reason why he can’t fit. … He’s a big part of what we’re gonna do.
“I just don’t see how a player as smart as he is, as talented as he is, as big as he is, doesn’t fit into anybody’s scheme. Then I’ve got to re-examine myself and think, ‘I can’t play with Pau Gasol?’ C’mon. He’s won two championships. I gotta rethink what I’m doing.”
Gasol has experiences similar issues already.
The Lakers tried sending Gasol last season to the Houston Rockets in a three-team trade that would’ve sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles. But the NBA rescinded the deal. Paul ultimately went to the Clippers. Still, Gasol seemed uneasy for most of the season. His name remained attached to trade rumors. Gasol also had a reduced role to make way for Andrew Bynum’s emergence.
Gasol’s offensive opportunities this season mostly rely on mid-range jumpers, but he hasn’t made them consistently. He’s battling tendinitis in both of his knees. And Gasol’s aggressiveness both for looking for his shot, on defense and increasing his conditioning only comes in spurts.
Will D’Antoni’s support help jumpstart his play?
“It should,” Gasol said. “I’m trying to figure out how to be more effective and productive within the system. I try to get myself in positions where I’m more comfortable … “I’ve never been in a position where I have to figure things out. I’ve been in positions where I have to deliver.”
Though D’Antoni hasn’t specified a certain number of shots Gasol should receive a game, the Lakers spent part of Thursday’s practice with new ideas on how to maximize Gasol’s versatile skills.
“We’re putting stuff in where we can get action closer to the basket,” Gasol said. “That’s something we should try to apply consistently so we can attack from those positions.”
In the meantime, Gasol plans to seek inspiration and think good thoughts. Hence, why he’s reading Krzyzewski’s book.
“You just have to stay positive and keep working and try to have fun with what you do and have faith and trust that good things will come,” Gasol said. “That’s why you grab the moment and enjoy every step of the way.”
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