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Lakers power forward Pau Gasol has a lot to deal with

A fluid but hardly fleet 7-footer, Pau Gasol has struggled in new Coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo attack. That, and his big contract, could make him trade bait.

November 27, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Big man Pau Gasol shoots over Nets forward Andray Batche in a Lakers' 95-90 win over Brooklyn.
Big man Pau Gasol shoots over Nets forward Andray Batche in a Lakers'… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The Lakers have four major stars, but Kobe Bryant isn't going anywhere, Dwight Howard isn't going anywhere (they hope), and Steve Nash, once he's healthy, isn't going anywhere because he's the one to run Mike D'Antoni's offense.

That makes Pau Gasol the presumed odd man out, given his weighty contract and declining stats. He makes $19 million this season and, the big blow, $19.3 million next season, when luxury taxes increase dramatically in an effort to eliminate the obvious spending differences between big and small markets.

Gasol, 32, is averaging 13.4 points and shooting only 43.4% this season, easily career lows for the four-time All-Star if he doesn't improve them.

The Lakers aren't actively looking to trade Gasol right now, The Times has learned, because they want to see what happens when Nash returns from a small fracture in his leg.

After that, there are two important dates: Dec. 15 is when teams can deal players they signed during the off-season, opening up about 20% more of the NBA's player pool; and Feb. 21, the league's trade deadline.

Gasol has been in four entirely different offenses the last three seasons. It's pretty obvious which one he prefers. He did everything but give a figurative hug to the triangle offense Monday.

"It put me in a natural position, which was post. I could score and I could pass," he said. "It was a perfect fit for me when I got here and Andrew [Bynum] was out. I had a lot of minutes and it was a need to cover.

"Now it's a different personnel, different need, different look, different system, different positioning. As a professional, you adjust to a different position in your company and try to do your best so the company still finds you a valuable asset and the company still performs as well as it did before."

Note to the Lakers' front office: He's tryin'.

Gasol didn't prosper in either of Mike Brown's offenses, including the short-lived Princeton scheme this season. More recently, he has been slow to adapt to D'Antoni's push-the-pace approach.

Emphasis on slow.

"We're all trying to get adjusted to the faster pace and running harder to our spots so the spacing's better, the flow is better," Gasol said.

He was benched in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' loss Friday at Memphis, the first time he could remember sitting out the final 12 minutes of a competitive game. He finished with six points on three-for-eight shooting.

He looked better Saturday, sitting out the fourth quarter as a reward, not punishment, as the Lakers destroyed Dallas. Gasol finished that game with 13 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes.

D'Antoni was obviously more pleased with the Saturday effort.

"He can easily play our system and he's going to be a very important player for us," he said.

If Gasol isn't running downcourt in time for a fastbreak opportunity, he slams into the same half-court problems he encountered when Bynum became an All-Star last season — not enough room for two successful big men down low.

Gasol has better outside touch than Bynum or Howard, so he keeps being the 7-footer stuck on the perimeter, trying to sink 15-footers. He's not Andrea Bargnani or Ryan Anderson, big men with an indelible outside touch.

So Gasol would rather be in the post but, for now, must hoof it after the Lakers get a defensive rebound. Quickly.

"I'm going to make sure I push through the first couple steps of my sprints, both ends of the floor, and just . . . get myself to the spots that I can attack," he said.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.

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