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Pau Gasol’s toughness is all in his head

The Lakers forward talks a big game but doesn't always back it up.

March 31, 2010|T.J. Simers

From Atlanta — Before we get to Pau Gasol, the gift from the NBA gods allowing Kobe to win a championship without Shaq, and a discussion about Gasol's lack of toughness as well as being a crybaby, there's the mop atop his head.

"Do you comb it?"

"No," he says.

"When was the last time you did?"

"I don't remember," he says. "I'm dead serious."

"What do you do?"

"I water it," he says.

"How do you know if it looks good or bad?"

"I look in the mirror and if everything looks pretty decent, I'll get out of the room."

Give him credit, you have to be a pretty tough guy to walk around looking like you just came out of a wind tunnel, or be so tall that no one can see the top of your head.

"I think I'm very very tough," Gasol says, and later when Phil Jackson is told that Gasol considers himself very very tough, he says with a grin, "I think two verys is too many."

Gasol disagrees, apparently mistaking Jackson for a referee, and saying, "I would never have been as successful as I am if I wasn't tough."

Jackson calls it "grit," and says Gasol is lacking it. Others simply say he's too soft. Jackson says most teams come out with the intention of beating him up, "and he is who he is and we can't change that."

When it does appear as if Gasol is playing with more verve, as it did the other night, Jackson isn't buying it, calling Gasol, "nifty."

"Is that what he said?" Gasol says. "That's interesting how he plays with words. But that's Phil. I understand where he comes from. Yeah, he tries to motivate me by giving out those comments, but sometimes I don't really listen."

Or so he says, Jackson knowing differently, telling Gasol the other night Gasol has difficulty posting up New Orleans center Emeka Okafor, and "so Pau scores the first 14 points in the game," Jackson says.

"And five of the seven times he scores, he looks over to the bench. I told him later he doesn't have to look, ‘you know how to motivate yourself.' "

THE LAKERS go 2-3 on the road, a trip that began with talk of 5-0, and now seven more regular-season games before everyone finds out whether this was no big deal or a playoff upset alert.

The latest loss to Atlanta, yet another whooping, is a reminder the Lakers do not have a productive bench, can't shoot threes very well, and Andrew Bynum better get well soon.

Kobe Bryant shoots 21 times, scores 28 points, but after Gasol slams home the first points of the game, he gets only four shots through three quarters of play.

The Lakers are a mess, Gasol's toughness becoming a huge issue if Bynum is slow to return, although Gasol says no one should be concerned.

"I'm driven by challenges," he says, the second Spaniard to give the NBA a try. "Not many people had faith in me. I was too skinny, too weak and not prepared and would be going back [to Spain] after a year. That motivated me, and no matter what was going on personally with me adjusting to a new country, new city, team, nothing was going to stop me from succeeding.

"Now I'll do whatever it takes to help this team."

There's no question Gasol is already tough on referees, looking too often like a crybaby.

"I discuss, I argue, but I don't think I'm a crybaby," he says, before being told he's got that wrong, and he is a crybaby.

He's such a good player, so consistent — in the top 10 in the league the last two seasons in overall efficiency, a stat that favors the complete player — but too often the histrionics that accompany nearly every blown whistle seems to detract from his standout play.

"Sometimes it takes a little bit away and I don't get down to the other end of the court as quickly as I should, but I'm an emotional player," he says. "I have a lot of passion in me. I'd like to control that aspect of the game more, and have done better over the years and will continue to do so."

Maybe. Three fouls called on him against the Hawks, and three times he thought the refs got it wrong.

THE LAST week or so the Lakers appear vulnerable, the rest of the league also probably noticing.

"I'm not nervous. I'm very confident this team can get it together," Gasol says after a strong fourth quarter allows him to finish with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

"I'd like it to happen as soon as possible. I don't like the idea of waiting and saying, OK, now we've got the playoffs. We have to build some momentum prior to the moment of truth. I'm hopeful we'll see things click in this last stretch before the playoffs."

How can anyone be "very confident" the way the Lakers are playing?

"I understand your point," he says.

GASOL IS the recent subject of a well-written but flowery Sports Illustrated story that has him doing everything but discovering the cure for AIDS.

"That was a dream of a teenager," says Gasol, a medical school dropout. "It's something that obviously didn't happen for me."

He says "it's true" he cut open cadavers in medical school, and so he should have been more comfortable playing with the stiffs in Memphis than most, but to the Lakers' championship benefit, he asks to be traded.

When he leaves Memphis, "it was like accepting failure," he says, "and I don't accept failure very well."

That's why he's standing in the middle of the Lakers' locker room now, Wednesday night's defeat doing nothing to the Lakers' place in the standings, but taking its toll on Gasol.

"I'm pretty disappointed," he says. "We can't be satisfied with this. All of those losses on this trip were bad losses. We have to understand what's got to change."

What do they say, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going?"

So where does that leave Gasol, and for that matter, his teammates, who haven't shown a lot of grit of late?

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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