HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Even the Lakers’ problems have problems.
That laundry list for a slip-sliding-away 9-14 ballclub start in a number of places (like half-court and transition defense), but one mounting issue that must be addressed is the power forward position. There’s the post-4 in Pau Gasol, who had become increasingly benched and depressed, not to mention awkwardly vocal about the volume of jump shots he was being asked to hoist working off the elbow in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense. The 7-footer is far more comfortable, as he has made it known and has shown throughout his career, working out of the block.
Then there’s the stretch-4 in Antawn Jamison, a more prototypical D’Antoni 4 if not for being 36 and a loose defender. Jamison acknowledged having to think through the previous regime’s Princeton offense, and he was giddy as a school kid at recess thinking about not having to think and just flow under D’Antoni.
“They [Lakers coaches] sat down and told me, like, you can almost be like Shawn Marion was to the offense [in Phoenix],” Jamison said last week before the Lakers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the start of the four-game skid they drag into woeful Washington on Friday night. “He was a guy who was able to knock down open jump shots and also pick-and-roll, slipping to the basket, find his way around the basket and getting shots there, and those are types of things that I do.”
Jamison went about his business of channeling Marion when Gasol first was sitting out with knee tendinitis, scoring at least 15 points in five of seven games. He put up 16 points and seven rebounds against Memphis, 19 and 15 at Dallas, 33 and 12 against Denver and 15 and 10 at Houston.
That made Jamison itch with anticipation of getting Steve Nash back.
“I can’t wait,” Jamison said. “As an opponent, it killed me to see him in that pick-and-roll action. You’re going to pick-and-roll with Dwight [Howard] and what are defenses going to do? They help on Dwight; I’ve just go to sit there and lace ‘em up and be comfortable.”
Since that first burst, though, Jamison has again become less Marion and more mediocre. Over the last four losses, he has a total of 24 points and 15 rebounds. Jordan Hill got a surprise start over Jamison two games ago in the disgraceful loss at Cleveland. Hill laid an egg in Cleveland, though, so Jamison returned to the starting unit Thursday night at New York.
He finished with three points and six rebounds in 22 minutes.
Gasol’s return is still uncertain, but when he comes back, D’Antoni would be wise to cater to the cerebral big fella. And Gasol will have to accept his evolving role as more of a jump shooter, particularly when he shares the floor with Howard. The new system already has messed with Gasol’s head. D’Antoni piled on his insecurities by benching the easily distracted Gasol twice in fourth quarters.
“He’s got to adapt a little bit in his game because we’ve got a different system, but he’s able to,” D’Antoni said last week of Gasol. “The guy’s so talented, I just don’t think he felt real well to be able to play as well … He’ll feel better, he’ll play better, we’ll play better for him, but again somebody that big, that talented, that good, has won two titles, so it shouldn’t be any question about his character or how he plays. I won’t question that, that’s for sure.
“It’s just we need to integrate him a little bit better.”
That means allowing Gasol and Howard to operate out of their comfort zones down low.
“We know how to post-up,” Howard said. “We have to run to the block to get the ball on the post and we do that. But we have to initiate whatever we want.”
At some point, perhaps in the next week or two, Nash will return, and so will Gasol, and the Lakers might look a whole lot different. But nothing will change if a player believes the system is squeezing out his strengths, and if the coach seems only to be playing up his weaknesses.
“All of us can co-exist on this team. We just have to find a way to make it work,” Howard said last week. “It’s still early in the season, we have a lot of games to play. We can’t lose focus, we can’t get off track with what our goal is.
“Whatever we have to do for our team to win a championship, we have to do it, and we will. We just have to figure it out. It’s basketball.”