Reporting from Minneapolis
Can Pau Gasol become the most valuable player in the NBA?
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson paused before answering. "That's a good question," Jackson said after practice Thursday.
The numbers Gasol has put up this season suggest he probably will be in the MVP conversation.
Gasol is averaging 22.9 points per game (12th best in the league), 12.2 rebounds (3rd) and 1.5 blocks (21st). He leads the NBA in double-doubles (10) and leads all big men in assists (3.9), and he's shooting 55% from the field.
Jackson, however, wants to see Gasol become more physical. Jackson said Gasol is "such a nice guy and such a well-meaning person" that he won't become the aggressor.
"I told him there is a way to do that, where the player you're going against, he'll understand that you have to take care of your own territorial rights," Jackson said. "But you have to inflict some pain sometimes. And that's just the warrior mentality that you have to have.
"It's not anything that's wrong and it's not anything that makes you a bad person to do. It's the code of behavior we have in this game. That's where he has to take the next step [for Gasol] to be considered" an MVP candidate.
Bynum still not ready
Andrew Bynum, who is recovering from right knee surgery, is still not "comfortable" doing some activity drills and is unable to pivot on one leg and explode to the basket, Jackson said.
Jackson said he suggested to Bynum that he try to be ready to play for the six-game trip that begins Dec. 10 in Chicago. If that return date holds up, Bynum would miss the first 22 games of the regular season.
Bynum may practice Monday.
"It looks to me like we just have to say, 'We want this to be right,' " Jackson said. "And we want him to last for a whole season [once he returns]. We don't want to rush this."
The 7-foot Bynum is very important to the team, something Jackson recognized.
He was asked whether the Lakers can be a good enough defensive team to win another championship without Bynum.
"I don't think so," Jackson said.
Playing with Bryant
It was an interesting question that produced an interesting answer. Is it hard or easy to play with Kobe Bryant?
"He's hard and he's easy — both," Jackson said.
"Well, sometimes he'll take us out of our sequence in our offense," Jackson said. "He'll see how to use the offense to his advantage and abort it and get to a spot before the defense can get there. But that's a product of having read this offense for a long time and learning how to move inside of it. We don't make a big issue about it."
The Lakers had six players placed on the NBA's All-Star ballot for the game that will be played at Staples Center Feb. 20.
Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher are on the list.