Pau Gasol is a true professional.
Thankfully, those words ring true for the Lakers’ 7-footer, because it’s no secret that Gasol is having a difficult time as a Laker right now.
In a season marked by disappointment and frustration, the two-time NBA champion has maintained a level head. Despite being publicly embarrassed and marginalized by head coach Mike D’Antoni, Gasol remains confident and upbeat about the Lakers’ prospects.
Being the ultimate team player that he is, Gasol certainly does not deserve this type of embarrassment from his coach. Gasol, however, continues to handle each additional dig from D’Antoni, with a presence unmatched by most NBA players.
The constant putdowns started with D’Antoni’s benching of Gasol late in a game against Memphis. D’Antoni defended the benching by saying, “I was thinking, I’d like to win this game.”
D’Antoni consequently benched Gasol permanently later in the season. Although he never explicitly admitted it, the famed “7 seconds or less” coach wanted to play ‘small ball’, rather than maximize the Lakers’ strength inside.
Gasol, a starter his entire career, was understandably frustrated by his demotion to the bench. As a result, D’Antoni fired more shots at the Spaniard in the media.
Before the Lakers’ game in Phoenix, D’Antoni told reporters, “I guess the ‘all for one’ lasted about 48 hours. Not bad.” This was an obvious dig at Gasol, who has personally been unhappy with his role since the benching.
In a recent interview with the LA Times’ TJ Simers, Gasol finally opened up about his frustrations, the current state of the Lakers, his view of coach D’Antoni, as well as his potential future in Los Angeles:
In response to Gasol’s dinner meeting with coach D’Antoni a few weeks back, Gasol had this to say:
“It was an effort on our part to try and come to an understanding,” Gasol said. “But I don’t think it’s translated to an understanding. Nothing significant has happened; it’s probably even gone a little backwards.”
On the notion that Gasol was a “happy camper now because D’Antoni was saving Gasol’s knees and prolonging his career”:
“Never heard that,” Gasol said.
Gasol, 32 and with one year remaining on his contract, was then asked what would happen if All-Star center Dwight Howard and coach D’Antoni remain with the Lakers this off-season:
“It would be hard for me to deal with another season knowing the facts you just mentioned,” said Gasol. “It’s a possibility [that I ask for a fresh start elsewhere].”
However, Gasol will not ask for a trade before the February 21st trade deadline:
“I’m not a quitter,” he said. “Just because things look better on the other side of the fence, I’m not going to take the easy way out. “I have a certain level of loyalty here, and I’ve been through a lot of great, amazing things. And there have been others that have been hurtful. But that’s life.
“I don’t have cancer, my mom wasn’t dying and I’m still playing basketball. I love the Lakers and Los Angeles, and none of that has changed just because certain things are out of my control.”
Despite D’Antoni’s constant disrespect of the 11-year veteran, Gasol refused to blame D’Antoni for misusing him:
“He has his philosophy and system, and the Lakers hired him,” said Gasol. “It’s not his fault. His philosophy is to play with one big guy and four guys spread out, so then he had to make a decision: Dwight or Pau?” It was an easy decision. The Lakers are committed to making Howard happy so he will return.
Gasol then offered up a prediction for the future:
“They try to decide how I can be productive in this mix, while I know I’m not going to be in position to do what I do best and help us win more games. It’s frustrating, but it’s not going to stop me from playing as hard as I can in whatever role.”
Gasol also elaborated on his displeasure for being under-utilized:
“I’m fortunate to be doing what I am for a living and being highly rewarded for it,” Gasol said. “But it hurts me that this unique opportunity we have with such good players is not being maximized.”
Gasol on whether being disrespected by D’Antoni will affect him:
“I’m not going to let it affect me. In a way he’s messing with my season, but not my career,” he said. “I know what I’ve accomplished, and I still feel like I’m one of the best players in the world.”
Although the two bigs have had difficulties playing together at times, Gasol remained optimistic:
“Dwight is a huge presence defensively,” said Gasol. “In a perfect world I’d love to see us dominating as an interior couple, thereby making everything easier for our teammates.
“I’m always trying to pass to Dwight to get him going. He hasn’t been very effective from the post, so I want to give him easy shots and get him into rhythm. You know he’s going to get fouled and then he’ll make one out of two.”
Like many around Los Angeles, Gasol agrees that both he and Dwight can co-exist effectively, and that he still deserves to be starting for the Lakers:
“Nothing is going to change, but I have no doubt we could coexist and dominate every single game,” Gasol said.
“I believe 100% if I was starting inside with Dwight we could make the playoffs. I just don’t know if coming off the bench gives the team a chance to be better and win more games.”
Be sure to make your vote count on what you think Pau Gasol’s future should be in the poll question above!