Pau Gasol mostly faults himself for season struggles

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, and center Paul Gasol, right, watch from the bench in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. Oklahoma City won 122-97. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, and center Paul Gasol, right, watch from the bench in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. Oklahoma City won 122-97. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Pau Gasol rattled on and on, faulting himself for seemingly everything that contributed to his season-long struggles. His inconsistent aggressiveness. His tendency to pop out to the perimeter instead of dive to the basket off pick-and-rolls. His struggles adapting to adversity.

“I want to find myself closer to the basket more often instead of always starting 20-30 feet away from it,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 122-97 loss Friday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “You can get there. It’s a matter of doing it within the system and not doing it in the conventional way that you used to do your entire career.”

After he uttered those words, Gasol then noticed a piece of hard candy, gum or perhaps a gummy bear get stuck to his left brown Oxford shoe.

“I can only control myself and where I step,” Gasol joked before dropping a few expletives.

But he clearly felt uncomfortable doing so as he willfully spoke to reporters for about 10 minutes following the Lakers’ 122-97 loss Friday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. He touched on all topics ranging from his 14-point performance on 6 of 10 shooting, Kobe Bryant’s point guard role, his frustration with Mike D’Antoni’s system and why he feels he’s in shape.

Once he stepped on what Gasol believed to be undetermined substance, the Lakers forward clearly looked agitated as he patiently answered more questions.

A trivial observation, for sure. But a perfect metaphor to explain Gasol’s thought process this season on why he’s averaging 14.4 points-per-game average on a career-low 41.7-percent shooting.

A day after expressing his frustration that D’Antoni’s system doesn’t feature him enough in the post, Gasol changed his tune.

“You always have to make yourself responsible,” Gasol said. “When you start pointing fingers at other signs or directions, you’re making a mistake. It’s all up to yourself.”

D’Antoni also praised Gasol’s aggressiveness, saying “He and Kobe have a special thing together” as Bryant racked up 13 assists albeit with seven turnovers as a point guard.

But D’Antoni wasn’t complimentary beforehand.

“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.”

Kobe Bryant couldn’t help but chuckle.

“They’re like an old couple,” Bryant said. “It’s every year, It’s not really anything new.”

Indeed it isn’t.

Gasol shared these frustrations last season amid a diminished role because of overlapping injuries that sidelined him for 33 games and Dwight Howard remaining in the post. But this year was supposed to be different.

The Lakers envisioned him picking up his fifth All-Star appearance, unburdened by deferring to another big man in the post, the ongoing trade rumors, the various ailments that sidelined him last season for 33 games.

Does this frustration all stem from Gasol’s pending free agency with little assurances the Lakers would like to keep him?

“I don’t think about it too much,” said Gasol, who’s in the final year of his contract worth $19.3 million. “I try not to think about it. I’m just focused on doing my best and hopefully that will give me the best opportunity, best deal and best situation.”

It hasn’t been a good situation for Gasol all season.

He has allowed several frontcourt players to post career highs, including Toronto’s Amir Johnson (32 points), New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (32), Washington’s Nene (30) and Denver’s Timofey Mozgov (23).

Gasol has been bothered this season by a respiratory illness, a mildly sprained right ankle and soreness in his knees after having an offseason procedure on them.

Gasol routinely has chosen to pop to the top of the key following screens instead of rolling to the basket.

“That’s what he wants to do,” D’Antoni said. “He does well doing it, but he knows our preference is to dive and post up.”

D’Antoni joked Gasol should feel comfortable diving on pick-and-rolls by saying “he looks pretty good in a Speedo.”

“I try to find the open spot. I feel like diving into the defense is not going to make it easy on me,” Gasol said. “I settle too much for those open jumpers knowing I practice them and I make 80 or 90 percent of them during every practice. I’m more effective when I get myself in the paint, whichever way.”

Bryant cited the need for Gasol to have a balance of looks in the post, on the elbows and on pick-and-rolls. So does this fall on Gasol or D’Antoni?

“You can run down to the block and just post up anytime you want,” Bryant said. “It’s a little tougher because you have younger guys who aren’t orchestrators and setting up things.”

That’s why Bryant made a concerted effort to set Gasol up on the elbows, the post and on pick-and-rolls.

“If we’re going to play our best,” Bryant said, “we need to go to him a lot, to make plays for himself, make plays for others.”

Gasol immediately smiled about Bryant’s support.

After all, Gasol remembers when Bryant spoke up for him other times. Bryant blasted the Lakers’ front office two years ago for leaving Gasol’s future uncertain. Bryant reiterated that offseason the Lakers needed to keep him. Bryant faulted D’Antoni last season for not featuring Gasol enough in the post. Bryant reiterated again the Lakers needed to keep Gasol.

“I highly appreciate it,” Gasol said. “It means a lot coming from him. He doesn’t do that for many people. I take pride in that.”

The next instant, Gasol sounded taken aback that Bryant suggested earlier that he needed to lose weight. The Lakers forward said he has already dropped from 270 to 259 pounds. He added he has revamped his diet and increased his off-court workouts.

“It’s good to have a good solid muscle,” Gasol said. “But as you grow older, you want to help your joints by losing weight. Tim Duncan did it. Dirk [Nowitzki] slimmed down. That’s a way to prolong and lengthen your career. I understand where he’s coming from.”

But it didn’t sound as if Gasol embraced the idea. Before he could go any further, Gasol griped about his shoes again and tried finding a place in the locker room to make his left foot comfortable. A perfect metaphor on how Gasol’s trying to come to grips with a system he doesn’t like.

“You have to put yourself in positions and have a better understanding of how to get to the spots you can really produce,” Gasol said. “Whichever that is, you have to make it happen for yourself. If the plays don’t help you get there, you have to do it yourself. That’s the struggle. We’ll make it work.”


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