Pau Gasol wonders if Mike D'Antoni has thrown his hands up on the season (Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol has never, ever been totally happy playing under coach Mike D’Antoni. Despite a fantastic re-birth to the ranks of an All-Star level contributor in 2013-14, Gasol’s talents are best served working in an inside-out environment that allows him to initiate the offense from either the low or high post. For various reasons, most of them injury-related, the Lakers are 59-71 with D’Antoni as Laker coach over the last two seasons, including a 19-39 run this year, good for last in the West.
With the Lakers having lost 13 of 16 following the team’s Tuesday night defeat at the hands of Indiana, Pau Gasol decided to abandon his typically tactful ways and criticize his team’s structure, its play, and its attitude and competitive fire. From the Los Angeles Times:
Gasol called for more discipline, presumably from D'Antoni, saying there were too many "individual actions" right now.
Eleven of the Lakers' 15 players are in the final year of their contracts, a big problem on a losing team, no?
"Probably. That's part of it," Gasol said. "But that's why you have to be disciplined and implement discipline. That's how you kind of make that better or make that not a factor. I don't think there's a lot of discipline right now."
Teammates needed to be unselfish by making sure the ball was passed to an open player, Gasol added.
"Otherwise it's really deflating and takes a lot of energy away from individuals," said Gasol, in the last year of a contract paying him $19.3 million this season.
Gasol went on to point out that it wasn’t injured Laker guard Kobe Bryant’s role or job to implement the sort of discipline he feels is needed to win, a clear a shot at D’Antoni as one comes. Gasol only had nine rebounds against the massive Pacer front line, down one from his average, but he was also pulled just 27 minutes into the blowout Indiana win.
Stuck in the middle of an impossible back-to-back against the league’s best defensive team this season (Indiana) and the best team last season (Memphis), D’Antoni admitted to reporters before the team’s eventual loss to Memphis that he wished Gasol would have kept things in house.
"The thing I just don't appreciate, and I think every coach [too], you just keep it in house," D'Antoni said Wednesday before the Lakers lost to Memphis, 108-103. "It's very easy just to come over and talk [privately] about your frustrations. We'll try to work something out. But to go to you [media] guys and to do it in the papers, that's disturbing. I just don't think that's the way to go. People should understand that we're all trying to solve the same problems."
That last sentence is very true. It’s nearly the definition of an organizational disagreement, and D’Antoni went on to offer that he doesn’t know what a lack of ball movement “has to do with discipline,” which is less understandable.
And yes, it’s true that it’s always better to talk about this stuff away from the reporters, even if we’re grateful for Gasol and his coach for giving us our blog column du jour.
Mike D’Antoni still has to give Gasol some space to vent, here, though.
Gasol will probably admit that he’s past his prime, but he’s certainly not far along in years as much as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash; two men taken in the 1996 NBA draft that may not play again in 2013-14 while dealing with a pair of injuries that are rare for the NBA. This is a man that could rightfully command a deal starting in the eight figures next season as a free agent, which is why the Lakers (unsure about what they’ll be able to do with Gasol’s cap hold and potential salary cap room this summer) attempted to find an asset for the free agent to-be before February’s trade deadline.
All indications seemed to point to the trade rumor leaks coming from Los Angeles’ side, with the Phoenix Suns not wanting to give up a first round pick for potentially three months of Pau Gasol. This point was sort of hammered home when, not sure if you noticed, the Phoenix Suns decided not to trade a first round pick for a few months of Pau Gasol.
There’s no shame even for a fully healthy Miami Heat team to lose to the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies, on the road, on consecutive days no less. D’Antoni has to find some way to adapt to his strengths, because while his up-tempo (second in the league in possessions) ways have given his players some nice per game stats (Kendall Marshall’s 9.5 assists per game) and his team a respectable standing in points per game (15th in the NBA), Marshall’s efficiency metrics rank him as slightly below average, and the Lakers are 23rd in offensive efficiency.
All while the losses pile up, while Gasol returns back from injury (that’s not a shot at Nash and Bryant, who are as gutty as they come) to act as a frustrated former All-Star that may not be long for Los Angeles – at possibly both Gasol and Los Angeles’ choice.
The numbers tell you that it’s not working. To hear D’Antoni tell it, though, things would be even worse if there was more half-court cutting as opposed to all out transition ball. From the Los Angeles Times:
"We want a certain type of basketball and we're trying to establish that," D'Antoni said. "Clearly, the numbers say that when you spread the floor and move the ball, get up and down the floor, then we have a lot better chance to win. And that's what we want to do.
"We want to establish our identity. This is how we're going to play and we're going to get better at it, and we're going to push the ball and we're going to evaluate talent. It's frustrating some players, I understand it."
If you do, then you have to let them vent.
The Lakers are a terrible team, and it’s quite possible that a triangle-ish attack with cutting off the ball and inside-out play would result in even worse play, what with their litany of non-shooters. It is easy to look at the Lakers as a team full of players attempting to get theirs, though, with a coaching staff that could be encouraging it under the guise of pushing the ball.
There are just seven more weeks of this, thankfully, in yet another season Los Angeles Lakers fans want nothing to do with remembering.
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