Mike D’Antoni says it’s possible Pau Gasol will still come off bench

In just his first game since missing the previous five because of a concussion, Lakers forward Pau Gasol pleasantly surprised coach Mike D’Antoni.

D’Antoni believed Gasol may lack stamina. Gasol showed energy. D’Antoni predicted Gasol’s timing may be off after missing a week and a half of basketball practice. Gasol showed more awareness possibly because he also further healed the plantar fasciitis in his right foot. D’Antoni assigned Gasol a bench spot to ease the transition. In the Lakers’ 99-90 loss Thursday to the Miami Heat, Gasol’s 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting, four rebounds and four assists in efficient 25 minutes showed the Lakers forward didn’t miss a step.

Perhaps Gasol provided too strong of a performance because it’s tilted D’Antoni’s thinking on how to use him. After proclaiming Thursday that Gasol will definitely start beginning Sunday against Toronto, D’Antoni says the starting spot at power forward remains uncertain.

“Today is a new day,” D’Antoni said. “Whatever we’ll see.”

Will the Lakers return with Gasol, who’s averaged a career-low 12.2 points on 42 percent shooting and 8.2 rebounds in 33 minutes? Or will the Lakers continue banking on Earl Clark, who’s had a breakout week after having an increased role during Gasol’s absence?

“We’ll see. I don’t know if that’s viable,” D’Antoni said about Gasol being a bench player. “He’s probably not going to like it. That’s just a wild guess.”

D’Antoni’s right.

When I relayed the news on how D’Antoni suddenly changed his tune, Gasol’s reiterated his sentiments afterwards that he wants to remain a starter.

“We all have a job to do,” Gasol said. “I’m a believer you have to put the best team on the floor. I agree with that 100 percent. Hopefully I’m part of that team.”

Usually he has.

Gasol only started in three games during his rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2001-02 campaign.

“I’ve been a starter my entire career,” Gasol said. “I’ve been a star starter my entire career. I want to continue to be a star starter.”

Gasol has hardly been a star under D’Antoni.

The Lakers forward has missed a combined 13 games, including eight from knee tendinitis and five from a concussion. Gasol continuously laments that D’Antoni’s offense that emphasizes floor spacing and outside shooting significantly hinders his post presence.

Meanwhile, Clark has shown in recent games that his outside shooting, energy and versatility helps space the floor better. He also serves as a better complement to Dwight Howard.

“I’m not a coach,” Howard said. “We all want to win. It might be good Pau comes off the bench and have Earl in the starting lineup or we can go back and have Pau in the lineup. Every piece in this puzzle is important. It doesn’t matter who is on the floor. They have to realize that whatever they bring to the table will help our team. They have to do it wholeheartedly and just play.”

Gasol did just that in his first game off the bench.

He aggressively found opportunities inside, made jumpers and hustled for rebounds. Even with a reduced role, Gasol and Howard played the entire fourth quarter together.

“Starting does not matter,” D’Antoni said. “Last 10 minutes of a game, last eight minutes, that matters. That’s where we’re going to have some problems if something happens.”

Gasol agreed with that point.

“The finishing is more important,” he said. “The best players should finish off games. That’s the way it has to be. When the game is on the line, you want to be on the floor. That’s important.”

But it remains to be seen whether Gasol will buy into D’Antoni’s vision as a possible role player. Does D’Antoni have to somehow convince Gasol to buy into his idea?

“My job is to put the best team on the floor,” D’Antoni said. “If I feel that’s the best way to go, I’ll go that way. If I don’t, then it’s nothing personal. I have to do what I think is right. I think every player has to accept that, whether they like it or not. Does he deserve to start? Yeah he does. He’s been here a long time and that will probably happen. If it doesn’t, you got go on. You got to contribute. You have teammates to think about. You have the Lakers to think about. You have to do whatever you think is best for the Lakers. Whether you agree or not, that’s something else.”

D’Antoni said he’s talked about such an idea. Gasol said they haven’t since initially agreeing he would come off the bench first before immediately phasing back into the lineup.

“It’s good to know and have that certainty,” Gasol said. “So there’s no unexpected surprises.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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  • Jon K

    “Mike D’Antoni says ‘it’s possible’ Pau Gasol will still come off bench.”

    Who else would know this POSSIBILITY, Mike?!?!?!?!

    It seems like Mike D’Antoni is always unsure of what’s going on, who’s going to play, how he’s going to use players, how to get better…

    In other words, CLUELESS.

    Get rid of the bum.

    FIRE MIKE D’ANTONI!!!

    • hookedonnews

      D’Antoni is not clueless. I’m not sure why it’s necessary to criticize everything he says and does. Maybe it depends on how things go at practice. Maybe he already knows he wants to bring Gasol off the bench but knows Pau is not going to be thrilled about it. Unfortunately a coach has to manage stars’ egos on a team like this. You act like D’Antoni has been there for years and hasn’t figured anything out. He’s come to a team plagued with injuries to key players with a new system after the season started, and you expect him to have everything running to perfection. Why don’t you give the guy a break? You are making a mountain out of a molehill.

      • Jon K

        Maybe because he doesn’t know what he’s doing and has the worst winning percentage as a Lakers coach in over 15 years.

        • hookedonnews

          Why don’t you look at his stats as a coach over his career? Are you sure about that worst winning percentage statement? They’ve had a couple of bad starts before. They started the season losing 11 in a row before he even got there. NBA players and analysts all say that D’Antoni is a great coach. It’s been said that he transformed the offense in the NBA. You have unrealistic expectations. Three of the starting five have been injured for the majority of the time D’Antoni has been there. Howard is still not 100%, and they are still a work in progress. You may not like D’Antoni, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to be there the rest of this season and the next. Everyone knows the Lakers don’t have a great bench. That’s not D’Antoni’s fault. They have lost games because the bench was not able to hold a lead. It’s also not his fault that Howard is a poor FT shooter, and that the team turns the ball over so much.

          • Jon K

            He has a system and he doesn’t know how to vary from it. It truly is that simple. Jim Buss is a fool.

            This team is not built for “Six Seconds or Less” and he chose a coach that doesn’t know how to do anything else than have his team run down the court and chuck up the ball.

            Ridiculous.

          • hookedonnews

            First of all it’s “Seven Seconds or Less.” D’Antoni has said from the beginning that it would not be seven seconds because he understands the kind of players he has. Secondly, there is a lot more to his system than running down the court and shooting. He would not be considered an offensive genius if there were not more to it than that. He has already adjusted the system more than once since he’s been there. He hasn’t had all of his starters 100% healthy since he took over. If you are watching the games you know that at times they play very well. Other times they seem sluggish (like yesterday) and flat. That’s not D’Antoni’s fault. These are NBA professionals. It’s easy to blame the coach, but his system is not the problem. It’s the players who are shooting poorly, turning the ball over, and not rebounding. At some point they have to man-up and do what they’re getting paid to do.

    • http://twitter.com/MedinaLakersNBA Mark Medina

      Jon K – I gotta say, I knew you weren’t a Mike Brown fan. But I don’t think you were ever THIS vocal about him…

      • Jon K

        Mark,

        Mike Brown was CLUELESS on offense, but I guarantee you that there is no way in HELL we’d be lower than a seventh seed if Mike Brown was still coach.

        When I hear Mike D’Antoni talk, I want to pull my hair out. He’s just CLUELESS. No chemistry builder. No idea how to use his players. He’s a rudderless captain constantly avoiding the issues and concluding questions with statements like, “We just got to figure things out!”

        YES, YOU DO IDIOT!!!!

  • hookedonnews

    Glad to hear D’Antoni say that if he decides Pau needs to come off the bench that’s what he’ll be expected to do. I’m tired of “stars” who think they can dictate to the coach what their roles should be. You’re going to have nothing but chaos on a team that allows that to go on. Gasol has already said he thinks he should start. A team player would have said I’ll do anything that helps this team win games.