With a solemn expression on his face, Pau Gasol peered over the team huddle.
The image fit all too well on how Gasol continuously feels he’s on the outside looking in regarding his role. It also provided a literary picture – Gasol sat in the final 2:36 of the Lakers’ 101-100 victory Tuesday over the Charlotte Bobcats.
Gasol stressed he wouldn’t worry about his role in his first game back after sitting out the past eight because of knee tendinitis. But after sitting in late fourth quarter stretches in two other games, Gasol voiced his displeasure as swiftly as one of his lobs to Dwight Howard or pull up jumpers.
“Hopefully it won’t happen too often,” Gasol said. “When the game is on the line, I need to be on the court. That’s what I get paid to do.”
Gasol gets paid plenty. He’s earning $38.3 million for the next two seasons. Yet, the Lakers have reduced Gasol’s role to the equivalent of a role player. Lakers’ Coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t explain his benching that way. Instead, he explained it by questioning Gasol’s fatigue level.
“I’m happy for Pau, it’s his first time back, the first five-eight minutes of each half he was really good, then he kind of went downhill when he got tired,” D’Antoni said.
Gasol’s 10 points on three of 10 shooting hardly looked glamorous. His timing looked off. Gasol missed easy jumpers. Even though he spent a good portion playing at center without Dwight Howard in the lineup, Gasol struggled receiving easy looks.
Yet, Gasol also posted nine rebounds, five assists and presented a whole bunch of sequences that epitomizes his versatility.
He set picks that resulted in each buckets. Gasol forced a turnover off a double team. Anytime his teammates made a play, Gasol quickly embraced them.
“I kept up pretty well,” Gasol said. “I pushed through times I was fatigued and I was pretty active. I liked my stamina. Knees are feeling much better than they were. I just have to be more confident. Sometimes I have fear of jumping off one or the other. It was a positive game for me.”
Well, except for those final 2:36 where he sat on the bench, leading to more questions on what Gasol’s role will entail.
“I don’t think he’s going to have a new role,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant insisted. “We’re going to post him. We’re going to put him at the elbow. He can obviously make plays on the perimeter. But he will because he’s skillful enough to do it.”
Bryant remained adamant about that. So much that when he told D’Antoni about his ideas, Bryant said the head coach’s response was “cool.”
“We take him for granted a little bit,” D’Antoni said. “He’s so good that you expect 25 points and 15 rebounds. He’s not going to get that because Dwight has 18 rebounds and there’s only so many you can get. I think Pau played well and will continue to play well.”
But not enough to stay late in the game.
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