Lakers power forward Pau Gasol drives to the basket against Nuggets center… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Both Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff pushed Pau Gasol for as many minutes as they could get, at an average of 37.2 a game.
Gasol averaged about that amount since coming to the Lakers, but his dip in field-goal percentage suggested a change was necessary.
Coach Mike D'Antoni has reduced Gasol's minutes to an average of 31.8 through six games.
"It's important that we spread the floor for Dwight [Howard]. That's the thinking behind it. I don't want to lose Jordan [Hill], I don't want to lose Pau, but at the same time we do have to spread the floor," D'Antoni said. "We will continue to do that and look for spots for the other guys because they can play, and they deserve to play."
The shift away from Gasol started with the emergence of Andrew Bynum and continues now that Howard is the team's primary inside option.
This season Gasol has uncharacteristically struggled from the field, playing away from the basket more than ever in his NBA career.
For Brown, Gasol shot 41.8% from the field. He improved through five games with Bickerstaff (45.5%), nowhere close to the 53.8% he averaged since coming to the Lakers.
Trying to adjust to D'Antoni's system, Gasol has hit only 39.3% of his shots from the field. The reduction in minutes has yet to help him find his shot.
Gasol and the Lakers remain a work in progress. Whether it's age, tendinitis in his knees or just the fit alongside Howard, Gasol has struggled.
Perhaps that shifts when Steve Nash returns from a leg injury. Or maybe Gasol just isn't the right fit anymore.
The determining factor might be Gasol's $19.3-million salary next season, which triggers a hefty graduated tax. Under a new rule in the league's collective bargaining agreement, the tax could climb from the current $19.3 million to more than $40 million (depending on a variety of factors).
Gasol may be too expensive to keep on the roster, even for the Lakers, especially if he isn't a productive front-court partner with Howard.
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You can email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.