HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Pau Gasol keeps finding himself on the end of the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench at crunch time, a strange place for one of the world’s best post players. But that’s exactly where Gasol was with the game on the line Sunday at Staples Center, for the second time in just five games.
And if you thought things couldn’t get any worse, now Kobe Bryant is dishing out his own brand of public advice/motivational talking points to … help inspire Gasol to keep himself on the floor?
The Lakers’ dysfunction has run deep this season, but perhaps never more than it did Sunday night after a despicable 113-103 home loss to the Orlando Magic, Dwight Howard‘s former team, when Bryant told reporters:
“Put your big-boy pants on,” Bryant said. “Just adjust. Just adjust. You can’t whine about it. You can’t complain about it.”
You don’t have to read between any lines to figure out that Kobe is calling Gasol out in the best/worst way (depending on your perspective). Demanding that Gasol man up and take responsibility for his own game and his own transition from Phil Jackson‘s system to Mike Brown‘s system and now, Mike D’Antoni‘s system, is exactly what you’d expect from a team leader.
This isn’t the first time someone has felt the need to light a fire under Gasol. Jackson had to do the same on several occasions when he coached the Spaniard, famously poking him in the chest during Game 3 of that playoff series they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 in an effort to challenge Gasol’s toughness in a critical situation.
The specifics of this latest late-game benching, provided by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, highlight a disturbing trend where Gasol is concerned:
Gasol was subbed out with 6:07 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up 84-83. Orlando outscored L.A. 30-19 the rest of the way. Gasol ended his night with 11 points of 4-for-11 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in 29 minutes.
“I don’t get irritated,” Gasol said of the benching. “I like to be out there. It’s upsetting for me as a player but I won’t allow it to irritate me.”
It was the second time the benching occurred with Gasol’s family in the building. The first time came against Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies and Gasol’s father and younger brother, Adria, were at Staples Center for the game Sunday.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni downplayed the difficulty of getting Gasol back on track.
“Just talk to him,” D’Antoni said. “There’s no magic words out there. He’s going to have to play. He still had 11 and seven and he’s playing, but we just have to be a more dynamic team. We’re slow right now. It’s just athletically, we’re struggling.”
D’Antoni added that he didn’t want to “lose Pau,” but Bryant assured that would not be a problem.
“We’re not going to lose him,” Bryant said. “That’s just not going to happen. I’ve been around him long enough. I know how to deal with him.”
The Lakers need to worry about losing games right now, too. They’re 8-9 after dropping this game to the Magic, a 6-10 team that had won just three times in its last 13 outings prior to Sunday.
Every time it seems the Lakers are getting on track, like they appeared to do in Friday’s win over Denver, they follow it up with a nasty fall like we saw against the Magic. This uneven approach under D’Antoni is not what anyone expected and certainly not what Bryant said we should expect after the coaching change.
And yet here they are, still struggling with their own identity while serving as the punchline for jokes league-wide because they can’t find a way to manufacture wins with one of the best rosters on paper.
If they keep this up through Christmas, calling for “big-boy pants” for Gasol will only be a small part of the barking Bryant is doing as the Lakers head into 2013.