Ever since Mike D'Antoni took over as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Pau Gasol has struggled mightily. He is having the worst season of his career, averaging only 12.6 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field, and just looks lost in the new run-and-gun system.
Sixth man Antawn Jamison, on the other hand, has absolutely flourished. Over his last five games, the 36-year-old is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds, shooting 56 percent from the field and 48 percent from long range. Against the Denver Nuggets on November 30, the former Tar Heel scored 33 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.
Jamison is now in a prime position to bring his great efforts to the next level. Gasol is out indefinitely with knee tendinitis (ESPN LA), and Jamison will start in his place. With the way he has adjusted to D'Antoni's system, it's looking as though he will be in Gasol's place for quite a while, even if the Spanish seven-footer's knees start feeling better soon.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Lakers management has told Gasol his time with the team will be limited unless he improves in his new role.
Gasol is averaging 12.6 points and shooting 42 percent from the floor, both career lows, in new Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's offense. Both he and D'Antoni have acknowledged that his role is and will be quite different than what it has historically been for the Lakers.
ESPNLosAngeles.com reported earlier Tuesday that Gasol is not sitting out Tuesday's game because a trade involving the former four-time All-Star is in the works. But a source told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has recently spoken to Gasol's representatives to let them know that the team will have no choice but to explore possible trade scenarios if Gasol is unable to adjust to D'Antoni's system.
As we can see from Gasol's shot chart, he has been robbed of his consistency. He is not getting as many touches in the low post as he would like, something he has complained about already this season. Rather than being the Lakers' dynamic power forward who can play both in and out of the paint, he is instead being asked to play as a scoring forward.
Gasol can score points well, but is not a pure jump shooter. As he has mentioned, he is more comfortable in the post. However, he cannot seem to adjust to life outside there, and his poor play has led to D'Antoni benching him late in games.
Jamison has been the exact opposite of Gasol in this regard. A natural scorer with a career mark of 19.3 points per game, he has fully adapted to D'Antoni's system. He is taking and making his jump shots as necessary, and is also doing quite well under the basket.
That said, it is understandable as to why the Lakers would look to trade Pau Gasol. Instead of making a concerted effort to fully adapt to D'Antoni's offense, he has instead complained about his role and asked for it to be adjusted accordingly. Given how specific D'Antoni's system is, this actually happening is unlikely.
Jamison has not complained once about his role. He lets D'Antoni coach him, and then does exactly what he is told. Thus, it is no wonder that Gasol is slowly being phased out.
That isn't to say that Gasol is an absolute lost cause. D'Antoni's offense relies on a solid point guard to act as quarterback, and the tandem of Darius Morris and Chris Duhon have been anything but productive. The struggling Lakers have been greatly missing Steve Nash, who is currently recovering from a leg injury.
As we saw during the New York Knicks' struggles early last season, the lack of such a point guard in D'Antoni's offense is enough to sink the ship, and this year is no exception. Nash is a talented point guard who makes his team better, and such could be the case for Gasol's numbers once the future Hall of Famer is back on the floor.
Until then, however, Mike D'Antoni has to go with the rotation that gives the Lakers the best chance to win. Jamison has fully adjusted to the system, while Gasol has struggled.
Unless a major turnaround happens soon, with or without Nash in the lineup, GM Mitch Kupchak is going to have to make a tough decision.
If it means dealing Gasol so that the Lakers may win, then so be it.