The setting: Minneapolis. The month: February. So you knew that Jack Frost would be in the air Friday night, nipping at toes, noses and other exposed flesh as the Los Angeles Lakers unbundled at the visitors’ end of Target Center for their game against the Timberwolves.
Jack’s buddy Sammy Sarcasm showed up for the event, too.
He was there when reporters approached Pau Gasol to ask about his starting gig in place of ailing Dwight Howard, who had flown back to L.A. for treatment on his right shoulder. Said Gasol: “Big news. Headlines. Exciting.”
Sammy was there as well in some comments by Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni to the media:
D’Antoni offered a way for Gasol to get over the disappointment of getting shuffled in and out of the Lakers’ starting lineup.
“Pay him $19 million. I think that should help,” D’Antoni said, smiling.
Gasol is under contract for $19 million this season and $19.3 million next season.
Get all that witty repartee down on paper, throw another $100 million or so behind it in production costs and ad campaigns and the purple-and-gold might have a Hollywood rom-com blockbuster on its hands.
Instead, alas, it simply has more of the same: An unhappy Gasol, feeling underappreciated after helping L.A. win titles and reach Finals since his arrival in 2008. And a stressed D’Antoni, clearing the distractions of criticism and expectations by doing what he thinks is right with his rotation. Which doesn’t appear to have a primary place for Gasol’s particular, not-so-fleet-of-foot skill set.
The outcome in the Lakers’ long-ago hometown Friday – a victory over the Wolves that got uncomfortably tight for a stretch and 22 points, 12 boards and three blocks for Gasol – isn’t going to significantly change anything about the dynamic. When Howard is fit to return, he’ll start and Gasol won’t. Simple.
That figures to keep the veteran forward’s name in play right up through the Feb. 21 trade deadline. If he’s still around beyond that, either the Lakers received low-balled in offers for him (relative to their expectations) or they’re keeping Gasol around for Dwight insurance, should the All-Star center end up exiting as a free agent or as damaged goods for the balance of the season.
One possible destination for Gasol to keep an eye on? The team that just made the big Rudy Gay trade. Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo wasn’t shy the other day in his willingness to shop forward Andrea Bargnani:
And Colangelo speculated openly that Bargnani might be the next Raptor to move on.
“The situation with Andrea is a unique one, he’s a great talent and he’s done a lot for the organization but sometimes a change of address is not bad,” said the general manager. “I’m not saying he’s asked for a trade but he certainly would not fight or resist a situation if it was the right situation.”
A role in D’Antoni’s system could be the right situation. Even if it sends Sammy Sarcasm north of the border with the underloved Gasol.