OKLAHOMA CITY – The Lakers’ forgettable 2012-13 slate hasn’t completely been wiped clean. One sour story line continues to percolate: Pau Gasol vs. Mike D’Antoni.
And it got a little hotter Friday morning as the Lakers’ coach essentially called out Gasol’s effort thus far and suggested the 7-footer’s production will increase if he simply focuses on doing his job. This came after the Lakers’ morning shootaround as they start a difficult four-game road trip with a nationally televised game at the Oklahoma City Thunder (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“Without a doubt,” D’Antoni said when asked if a player can spend so much time wondering why he’s not comfortable that he actually perpetuates the problem. “Well, it’s also a nice excuse not to play hard. That’s a classic, ‘Well, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well, you don’t have trouble getting up to the pay-stub line. They know what to do there to get their checks, so obviously you know what to do. So they will, they’ll figure it out.”
Even with Dwight Howard out of the picture and no longer hogging the low block, Gasol, who is being paid $19.3 million in the final year of his contract, remains frustrated with his areas of operation in D’Antoni’s offense. On Thursday the 7-footer made that clear to Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke:
“The fact that I’m not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness. When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity…
“What do you think? I’m not going to say anything, but it’s easy to see. You see a guy with a certain skill set, where does it fit better, where it doesn’t.”
Gasol wants the ball closer to the basket. D’Antoni’s retort Thursday to Plaschke?:
“I can’t lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up.”
Gasol’s latest comments of discontent come just days after he told NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper that he will consider other teams when he becomes a free agent this summer.
Following Friday’s shootaround, Gasol quickly exited the floor for the team’s locker room as reporters gathered around D’Antoni for his morning briefing. Gasol, apparently, had no interest in continuing this dialogue. That was left to D’Antoni, who acknowledged that this situation has festered since he took over the team.
“Yeah, more or less, it’s that time of the season, right before Christmas, we’re good,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll get through it. And the thing is, the message is the same to everybody: Just play hard and we’ll figure it out. If you don’t play hard it’s hard to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. So everybody has the same message and we just keep beating it in practice, and every film session we show them what we want and hopefully they’ll do it.”
Gasol was the Lakers’ leading scorer during the 19 games that Kobe Bryant missed, but he is averaging just 14.4 ppg, a tick above last season when he played just 49 games due to various injuries, and while also consistently frustrated with being pushed further away from the basket as Howard got the majority of post touches. Gasol is shooting just 41.7 percent from the floor this season, well down from 51.5 percent for his career, as well as from the career-low 46.6 percent he shot last season.
According to NBA.com stats, nearly 45 percent of Gasol’s shots are coming from within eight feet of the basket. But 88 of his 295 shot attempts, nearly 30 percent, have come from 16 to 24 feet. He’s connected on just 36.4 percent of the those attempts.
D’Antoni said there comes a time when a player must simply make the decision to accept the game plan.
“They don’t want to do it that way and that’s when you have to either accept it or not, but there’s no reason not ever to play hard,” D’Antoni said, also noting his surprise that Gasol hasn’t transitioned better with Howard now in Houston. “It’s kind of surprising. I think it’s surprising any time for anybody, but that’s part of the job and that’s fine.”