Mike D’Antoni refuses to delve into Pau Gasol’s role once he returns

Before the question was fully asked, Mike D’Antoni knew what was coming.

He had spent the last few minutes detailing Gasol’s progress for the past four weeks since tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot that’s sidelined him for the past 14 games. Gasol spent Friday running at an anti-gravity treadmill and could perform on-court running next week during the Lakers’ three-game trip to Orlando (Tuesday), Atlanta (Wednesday) and Indiana (Friday).

But when Gasol returns, will he start in place of Earl Clark? Or will Gasol continue to come off the bench like he did in the six games before his injury?

“We’re not going there. We’re not going there yet,” D’Antoni said. “We’re not going there. We don’t need to go there yet do we? We can have that [discussion] later on.”

Gasol has averaged a career-low 13.4 points on 45.3 percent shooting. His numbers are fairly similar as both a starter (13.4 points) and a reserve (13.1 points), but Gasol boasts a stronger shooting percentage as a bench player (53 percent) than a starter (43.8 percent). Gasol’s numbers also bode similar despite the playing time discrepancy as a starter (34.5 minutes) and reserve (28.7). Part of that reflects the reality that Gasol is featured more inside as the Lakers’ backup center than he is sharing the floor with Dwight Howard.

Yet, there’s Gasol and Howard could become more dominant together if they’re more of a featured part of the offense together.

“When he comes back, obviously he’ll be a big part of what we’ll do and he’ll get back to the level he was before he got hurt,” D’Antoni said. “If he does that, he’ll help a lot.”

After remaining sidelined for four weeks, Gasol’s still on pace to match the team’s original timetable to return with an additional two to four weeks. So don’t expect Gasol to play at all during the Lakers’ upcoming trip.

“I don’t think that’s the plan,” D’Antoni said. “If the trainers say he’s ready to go, but I don’t think we’re there yet.”

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

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