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Lakers' Mike D'Antoni puts accent on positive after going negative

T.J. SIMERS

It's hard to decipher Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni's West Virginia drawl, but his recent criticism of Pau Gasol was pretty clear. But he says he's a big fan of Gasol.

November 27, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni of the gives instructions to his team in the game against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 20, 2012
Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni of the gives instructions to his team in… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Most of us don't speak West Virginian.

It's a tricky language, but just part of the job now as we get to know Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni and what he's really saying when he speaks.

For example, I wanted to know if anyone has ever used the expression "to go D'Antoni on someone," as in really letting someone have it as he did Pau Gasol the other day.

"I didn't do anything to him," D'Antoni says, and for all we know Gasol is inside the locker room and curled into a ball after being annihilated by D'Antoni.

"Those were tough words," I suggest.

"What did I say?" D'Antoni wants to know, and as much as he talks and as hard as it is to always understand what he's saying, maybe he didn't hear himself correctly.

I remind him he benched Gasol in Memphis and when D'Antoni was asked later what he was thinking, he told everyone he was thinking he wanted to win the game.

Ouch!

"Those are tough words?" D'Antoni asks.

"I thought those were as tough words as we've heard from a coach around here."

"You're a sensitive guy," D'Antoni jokes. "See, I'll treat you a little bit different. I've got to give you a big hug because obviously you need one."

He's got that right.

"Pau is a pretty big guy; he can handle it," D'Antoni says. "I was just a smart aleck like I normally am, but that's about it."

Hard to believe anyone is more sensitive than Gasol, who is already the subject of trade talk. And it hasn't gone well in the past when he has felt unwanted.

"I don't get it," D'Antoni says. "That's not coming from us. That's just what [happens] in New York and L.A. That's what you all do; you talk and most of it is wrong.

"But it does get people interested and that's good. I'm OK with that. It's entertaining and it should be entertaining. I'm sure Pau is not affected. . . ."

We know differently.

"Then you all should stop doing it," says D'Antoni, quick with the disarming humor, and I wonder if he would mind joining me for Jim Mora's news conference after Friday night's Pac-12 title game.

Now ask most Lakers fans, based on what they've heard so far, and I would guess they expect Gasol to be traded. Haven't we all been led to believe he can't fit with what D'Antoni wants to accomplish?

"It's wrong," D'Antoni says. "When Dwight [Howard] goes out, Pau is a great center, and you cannot find a center for 14 minutes that can do what he does. So that's super positive.

"There's no reason why he can't fit. Ideally, maybe you would like Jesse Owens, a guy who can run, but Pau is going to be a big part of what we're going to do."

But can he run enough?

"He's not crippled or anything; we're not going to be seven seconds or less," D'Antoni says. "That's not just Pau — that's a lot of guys. But you just don't see a player as smart as he is, as talented as he is and as big as he is. I've got to reexamine myself if I can't play with Pau Gasol."

Edit out all the "shucks" and "golly gee whizzes," and I don't know how much clearer D'Antoni can make it.

Despite all the rumors, he's got Gasol going nowhere but up and down the court.

We'll learn in time if he can be believed when he speaks.

I STOPPED by Clippers headquarters to see if Blake Griffin had shown up. He certainly didn't for Monday night's game with New Orleans.

Griffin shot one for nine before fouling out in the worst game of his young professional career.

So how does a 23-year-old, who is expected to leap tall buildings in a single bound, handle such disappointment?

"I'm lucky," he says. "I've been around Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill. What team has three guys like that who deal with things so well?

"When they have below-average games, they just remain even-keel. That's something I couldn't deal with well before last year, but I'm lucky to be surrounded by such players."

When Griffin made his way to the bench after fouling out against the Hornets, Lamar Odom put an arm around him to remind Griffin he wasn't alone.

"There's still a thing where you don't want to let people down," Griffin says. "The people that hate you are going to hate you no matter what, but it's more about letting our fans down. And I don't like to do that."

As bad a night as he had, Griffin still met his media obligations and offered no excuses for his poor showing.

"When I came out of the game it was no time to be selfish," he says. "I wanted to see if we could pull it out. It's on my drive home when I got tough on myself and thought about all the mistakes I made. And there were a lot of them.

"Believe me, I'm harder on myself than anyone, including the media."

I do love a challenge, but I also like a young man who knows how to handle success and failure as a pro.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesTJSimers

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