Lakers forward Pau Gasol told The Times that the team's talented starting… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
With the starting lineup the Lakers have accumulated, it’s a hard task to dissect any significant weaknesses.
Long ago the lightning rod for criticism, the Lakers’ point guard spot suddenly becomes dangerous with Steve Nash directing the offense. Kobe Bryant’s prolific scoring will become more efficient now that he’ll relieve ball handling duties. Dwight Howard remains the league’s top center both in scoring on the low block and denying looks inside. He has a trusty sidekick in Pau Gasol to facilitate and complement his post presence. And even if it’s questionable he’ll cash in on the numerous open three-pointers, Metta World Peace is expected to enter the season in stronger shape to defend an opposing team’s top players.
Still, the Lakers can’t just expect to roll out the basketball and assume everything will flourish.
“It’s going to be playing together and understanding some nights will go more toward one player, attacking matchups and reading the game,” Gasol said. “We need to feel the game and feed whoever is hotter that particular day. At the same time, we need to keep the mind set that it’s all about winning. It’s not about who plays better or who plays worse. It’s about team effort and getting closer to our goal and getting stronger as the season goes along. As long as we understand that as a team, things will work out.”
Gasol spoke recently to The Times from the African nation of Chad where’s he’s spending this week in the Sahel region as a UNICEFambassador. Considering he’s helping with vaccinationand feeding efforts to the poverty-stricken area, Gasol has more significant issues to ponder than what the Lakers offense will look like.
Still, the issue at times became a point of contention last season when Gasol often felt restricted as a facilitator. His 17.4 points on 50.1% shooting ranked 17th among forwards, but reflected a relatively reduced role than in seasons past. He suddenly became the third option behind Bryant and Andrew Bynumand found most of his scoring opportunities off mid-range jumpers and putbacks instead of in the post.
The Lakers will look different this season.
Gasol won’t have to ponder ongoing trade speculation. The Lakers will also run the Princeton offense, a system based on frequent cuts, passing and spacing. They’ll also highly depend on Nash’s pick-and-roll skills. Both areas better suit Gasol’s game, but he acknowledged his uncertainty on how his role will evolve.
“I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to work,” Gasol said. “Obviously I like to be involved and have a chance to be aggressive and create not just for myself, but for others. We all know how comfortable and dangerous we can be when we’re working from the post and other areas. It’ll be getting a feel of what works best for the team and understanding each other’s role and go on from there.”
Regardless, Gasol will likely have added responsibilities at least at the beginning of the season. Howard acknowledged at his introductory press conference two weeks ago that he could miss the season opener Oct. 30 against Dallas and beyond. Such an absence would likely thrust Gasol into the center position, while either Jordan Hill or Antawn Jamison would play at power forward.
Either way, Gasol’s used to starting the season with a heavy load. Gasol played at center for the first 24 games of the 2010-11 season, while Bynum rehabbed from offseason knee surgery. Gasol also started the first five games last season at center while Bynum served a suspension for clotheslining former Dallas guard J.J. Barea in the 2011 playoffs.
Can Gasol absorb heavier minutes after leading Spain to a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics?
“My body feels good,” he said. “I’m recovering from the national team’s effort and the Olympics.”
Soon enough, that recovery period will stop. Gasol maintains he’s ready for it.
“I look forward to the day we get to start and working in training camp,” he said. “We have a normal season again after the lockout season. Obviously I think we have tremendous players and the goal is going to be winning. Nothing but winning a championship again is what’s going to be on our minds from Day 1.”
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