OKLAHOMA CITY — The backdrop surrounding the Lakers’ nightmarish season last year has mostly disappeared.
Dwight Howard left for Houston. Mike D’Antoni had a full training camp to implement his system. The Lakers’ front office acquired a flurry of castoffs that both fits D’Antoni’s philosophy and show eagerness in adapting toward any circumstances.
Well, except for one thing.
Pau Gasol still doesn’t like how he’s featured in D’Antoni’s offense. He didn’t speak to reporters following morning shootaround Friday here at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but the Lakers’ forward in recent days has attributed his 14.4 points per game average on a career-low 41.7 percent shooting toward D’Antoni’s system not featuring him enough in the post.
“It’s also a nice excuse not to play hard,” D’Antoni said. “That’s a classic, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well, you don’t have trouble getting up to the paystub line. You know what you need to do to get your check. You know what to do. They will. They’ll figure it out.”
“That’s one thing. They don’t want to do it that way. I understand that. That’s when you have to accept it or not. But there’s no reason not to play hard.”
Gasol hasn’t done that.
He has lacked aggressiveness on defense, allowing several frontcourt players to post-career highs, including Toronto’s Amir Johnson (32 points), New Orlean’s Anthony Davis (32), Washington’s Nene (30) and Denver’s Timofey Mozgov (23).
The Lakers also anticipated Gasol putting together an All-Star caliber season considering Howard’s defection to Houston thrust him into a larger offensive role. Gasol’s also playing in the final year of his contract that pays him $19.3 million.
But Gasol has routinely chosen to pop to the top of the key following screens instead of rolling to the basket.
“It’s surprising,” D’Antoni said. “But I think it’s surprising anytime. That’s part of the job and that’s fine.”
It doesn’t help Gasol has also suffered a variety of ailments this season, including respiratory issues, a mildly sprained right ankle and working himself back into shape after recovering from an offseason procedure on both of his knees. Kobe Bryant also suggested recently losing weight might jumpstart his conditioning.
“He is a little sluggish,” D’Antoni said. “But that will go away once he keeps playing. The biggest thing is that everybody to a man, we just have to play hard and worry about things less.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org