Something made Pau Gasol’s head spin, and no he isn’t still experiencing vertigo.
Gasol does not understand why Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni hesitates to play Chris Kaman along with him after he posted 28 points on 13 of 18 shooting in the Lakers’ 125-99 victory Sunday over the Phoenix Suns. Or after seeing Kaman average 14 points on a 47.9 percent clip and 8.8 rebounds in the seven starts over Gasol while nursing various ailments.
“After a monster game like last night, it’s hard to bench a guy like that and not play him like the most part of the year,” Gasol said. “You have to give him some credit and understand he’s a valuable piece and one of the best pieces right now.”
D’Antoni said he remains undecided on how that scenario will play out should Gasol play Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center after missing the past four games because of vertigo. D’Antoni even joked to reporters, “I was going to ask you guys and give me scenarios where we could play them.”
But after signing a one-year, $3.2 million this offseason, Kaman has experienced what he has called his most frustrating season in his 11-year career. Kaman has averaged 10.3 points in 18.6 minutes, but has only appeared in 38 games. D’Antoni has often credited Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre for having superior defense and for Kaman’s versatile skillset becoming less valuable because it mirrors Gasol’s game.
“You do the math. If you’re going to play Pau 30 minutes, that leaves 18 minutes some place,” D’Antoni said, referring to the 48-minute game. “You’d like to play Robert because he’e developing. Even if you play 10 minutes, which is noting, that leaves 8 or 9 [minutes] with Chris.”
So why not play Kaman those minutes?
“He said he didn’t want to play that,” D’Antoni said.
Well, why not play Kaman together with Gasol instead?
“Well, that’s going to knock Ryan [Kelly] out, or that’s going to knock Jordan Hill out,” said D’Antoni. “If Jordan Hill is not playing, then we’ll have the same discussion, ‘Why isn’t Jordan Hill playing?'” “Then if Ryan isn’t playing, you’ve got to be nuts. I thought Ryan Kelly, last night had his best game ever.”
Kelly scored 17 points with five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 29½ minutes on Sunday against the Suns. But Kaman’s 28 points nearly eclipsed his career-high 29 points set as a Clipper against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 22, 2009.
Kaman did not speak to reporters after Monday’s practice. But he has been honest for most of this season about his frustration surrounding his role
“I’m not at peace about it,” he said last week. “I’m not in charge. I don’t run this show. I don’t turn the wheels. I don’t make the clock work. It’s somebody else controlling me. I’m a puppet.”
D’Antoni acknowledged that he’s more prone to play Sacre and Kelly because they are considered young, developing projects that could have a long-term future with the Lakers. Kaman is not expected to return next season for obvious reasons.
“Chris is an established guy that has a game that’s not going to improve,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll play well but he is who he is. He’ll be who he is next year and the year after. Pau is the same way,” he said. “Ryan and Robert can really use these minutes to really get to be better. You don’t know what their ceiling is. That’s kind of the focus and the thought about why they need to hit the floor.”
Still, D’Antoni’s argument somewhat contradicts his stated philosophy that he sets his playing time geared toward players who perform well and show effort.
“That’s easier said than done,” D’Antoni said. “I’d love to reward him. Btu who do you not reward. There’s an adage that a guy comes back with his starting job so you can’t reward Pau. Ryan Kelly had his best game ever. Do you reward that. I think Robert is coming on. Do you reward that. It’s tough. You can look at it a 1,000 different ways. It’s the way the team is made up and not enough minutes to mak everybody happy. We go through the process and tick people off from time to time.”
Consider Gasol as one of them.
“I would be comfortable playing with him,” Gasol said of Kaman. “We played a couple of games in the preseason and I thought it was pretty effective. I thought people were pretty excited and we got good results from it. But we never really went back to it the entire season.”