MINNEAPOLIS — It pains Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio to see from a distance how the Lakers have treated Pau Gasol, his close friend and teammate on the Spanish national team.
The Lakers initially traded him and Lamar Odom Dec. 2011 in a deal that would’ve landed Chris Paul, a trade NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed as the acting owner. Never-ending reports linked Gasol in trades that never materialized. Though the Lakers have no plans to trade Gasol before the Feb. 21 deadline, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has forced him to come off the bench and even sit late in some games.
All those circumstances lead Rubio to make one damning conclusion on how the Lakers view Gasol.
“It seems like the Lakers don’t want him the last two years,” Rubio said Friday following morning shootaround. “But what they need is him. I think if Pau was on another team, they would look for Pau for sure.”
Rubio, of course, would love to play with Gasol with the Timberwolves (17-25), which host the Lakers (20-26) tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Target Center. Plenty of trade reports in seasons past have linked Gasol to the Timberwolves partly because of Rubio’s close relationship with Gasol.
But Gasol, who has two years left on a $38 million contract, has insisted publicly he wants to stay with the Lakers. Yet, he’s also made it clear he doesn’t like coming off the bench and sitting out late in games. Gasol has averaged a career-low 12.8 points on 44.8 percent shooting and 7.9 rebounds per game through various circumstances. That included injuries including knee tendinitis (10 games), concussion (five games) and plantar fasciitis in his right foot (ongoing). After playing mostly away from the post as a facilitator, Gasol has now played as a backup center. The shifting roles and injuries also appear to have deflated Gasol’s confidence.
Rubio believes those issues wouldn’t persist if the Lakers used him correctly.
“Pau is one of the best players I’ve ever played with,” Rubio said. “He can pass really well the ball. There’s not a lot of seven footers that can pass like him. He sees the court as a point guard, but he’s a center.”
The Lakers mostly featured Gasol in such a manner under Phil Jackson’s triangle offense from 2008 to 2011. That was good enough to win two NBA championships. Gasol also played that role with the Spanish national team, which won the silver medal this summer in the 2012 London Olympics.
“He gave a lot to the Lakers. He went to the Lakers and he gave them two championships in a row and he’s one of the greatest in this league,” Rubio said of Gasol. “It seems like there’s a lot of things going on [with the Lakers]. When things aren’t going well, they’re supposed to be first and second seed in the Western Conference. But when they’re not, they judge everyone.”
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