The questions surrounding Pau Gasol no longer rest on when he will heal his knee tendinitis. Following a two-week absence that has kept him out for eight games, Gasol will return to the starting lineup tonight when the Lakers host the Charlotte Bobcats at Staples Center.
Instead the questions center on how he will fit in Mike D’Antoni’s system.
“I would be shocked if he can’t,” Lakers coach D’Antoni said. “He could be good in any system. He’s one of the most skilled big men. There can’t be a system for someone that’s skilled and knows how to play, it can’t work for you.”
Yet, that hasn’t happened for Gasol.
He has averaged a career-low 12.6 points on 43.7 percent shooting. Gasol had admitted a learning curve in playing a stretch power forward and running up and down at a much faster speed. During his absence, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson have advocated for Gasol to be featured more in the post.
Yet, D’Antoni believes the problem pointed more Gasol’s health than needing to adjust his system.
“He feels better,” D’Antoni said. “I think that’s a big factor. Hopefully as we go forward, the team will play better around him and give him some room. Some of it, I think he feels better. Some of it, I hope the team can better understand how to play with him a little better.”
But how do the Lakers do that?
D’Antoni insisted he’s not stubborn to his system, saying “the ultimate thing is to win. I won’t compromise and then lose.”
Yet, D’Antoni made some issues clear regarding Gasol’s role.
D’Antoni expect Howard to play less in the post to make room for Gasol.
“Dwight is pretty much the center and is going to play that way,” D’Antoni said. “We’d like to expand his game a little bit, put the ball on the floor every once in a while where ever he is and give him. It’s Pau who has to expand his game. He’ll stand out in the corner 3’s.”
D’Antoni answered definitively whether he would bring Gasol off the bench.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “You look at everything. I think he’ll be good right where he is and then sub him early to get him a blow so he can take Dwigth’s place in a few minutes. We could play stretch 4 way out. That could be the key. That’s what we’ll look at right now. We’ll see what works.”
And D’Antoni bristled at Gasol ever becoming a stronger focal point in the offense than Kobe Bryant and Howard.
“It’s wrong to say somebody is a focal point,” D’Antoni said. “I think you share the ball and play with energy and the ball moves.”
Yet, that hasn’t always happened.
So much that D’Antoni admits prior to the Lakers’ two-game winning streak that the team strayed away from his ball-sharing principles. So much that Metta World Peace publicly called D’Antoni out on it.
“He was right to a certain degree,” D’Antoni said. “There were three or four games there where I thought we were bad and we weren’t doing the things that we talked about. We got back to it in Washington. Hopefully it sticks.”
Whether Gasol will help contribute to that remains to be seen. But D’Antoni touts Gasol’s two NBA championships and basketball intelligence to prove enough.
“His knowledge of basketball is really good,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll enjoy playing this way. It will be right down his alley. I think he’s going to be really good.”
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