In recent light of the Los Angeles Lakers collapse to a rebuilding Orlando Magic squad, we saw Lakers forward Pau Gasol benched by coach Mike D’Antoni for the last 6:07 for his lack of intensity and efforts on both ends on the floor. Missed layups, being blocked by Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and poor on-court awareness drove Lakers leader Kobe Bryant to call out Gasol stating “Put Your Big Boy Pants On.”
Easier said than done.
In the midst of a tumultuous season involving coaching changes and knee injuries, it is clear Gasol is struggling to adjust to D’Antoni’s fast-paced system. This system relies on spacing, spot-up shooting, and a certain level of mental toughness. Gasol’s skill set isn’t necessarily a good fit based on D’Antoni’s (only) success with the Phoenix Suns, but we’ve seen Gasol adjust before.
We’ve seen Pau Gasol shine in big moments during his tenure with the Lakers. He has two championship rings and 4 All-Star appearances, but seemingly doesn’t get any credit for his contributions to those championship runs. The Lakers were a .500 team until an epic trade (which worked out for both teams) for Gasol put the Lakers back in championship contention for the last five years. Gasol retains Hall-Of-Fame talent as a finesse big man in an era where his game relies on skill and high basketball IQ.
But this also the same Pau Gasol who Kevin Garnett famously intimidated in the 2008 NBA Finals. The same Pau in which former Lakers coach Phil Jackson punched in a playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks in an effort to help Pau bring more intensity to his game.
You can blame the “soft” tag attached to many European players in the L. You can blame the awkward yells and moans Gasol does on a dunk or good play. You can blame Wale. If a player hasn’t been able to develop that mental toughness gene after 10 years in the NBA, perhaps it will never come to pass.
D’Antoni isn’t exactly known for being able to connect with players who don’t fit his system (Stephon Marbury, Carmelo Anthony, Shaquille O’Neal, to name a few), but the unsettling beginnings of his tenure as Lakers coach directly relate to how he plans to use Gasol. Gasol’s talent is there. His health may not be at 100%, but Gasol needs to take his own career and legacy into his own hands.
I plan on seeing a huge difference in Gasol’s game when he returns to the court. Gasol will adjust. It will take time. It is just a matter of patience from rabid and entitled Lakers fans, D’Antoni being able to connect with Gasol mentally, and Gasol taking full advantage of his size and skill set and becoming the All-Star we once knew.
Gasol doesn’t need to be traded or repeatedly benched. He needs to be re-calibrated and retooled. And that starts with himself.
Or else, face the wrath of the possibility of Kobe Bryant kicking everyone’s rear end in the locker room…..except Metta World Peace.