Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak Not-so-Subtly Hints That Pau Gasol Is Out of Place

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are out of sorts, none more so than Pau Gasol.

Once considered a dominant big man who could compress defenses with his post presence yet stretch them wafer thin with his range, Gasol is now considered part of the problem in Los Angeles.

To be fair, such criticism is not completely unwarranted. 

Gasol is presently averaging a career-low 12.2 points per game on a career-worst 41.6 percent shooting. His mobility is not what it once was and he has failed to feign competence as a stretch forward in Mike D'Antoni's uptempo offense.

Visions of redemption danced through the heads of the Lakers faithful when Gasol returned from a tendinitis-invoked absence. With Steve Nash in the lineup, he was bound to thrive.

But he hasn't. 

And per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, general manager Mitch Kupchak has noticed:

The major question for the organization seems to be the integration of Pau Gasol with Dwight Howard, under the guidance of Coach Mike D'Antoni.

"I think Pau continues to struggle to figure out how he's going to play with his group," Kupchak said. "Our coaches are struggling as well. We're not going to succeed as a team until we figure that out."

Kupchak was very careful to direct his comments at the team as a whole, but he was also revealing in his decision to preface such sentiments with an observation about Gasol, and an accurate one at that.

As Gasol begins his second stint on the injured list, courtesy of a concussion, it has never been more clear that he's out of place.

It's not just his per game stats either—it's everything.

From Gasol's passiveness when running pick-and-rolls, to his awkward spacing, to the lack of rotation on his jump shot, the four-time All-Star just isn't right.

Blame it on D'Antoni's system, attribute it to age or natural decline, it doesn't matter. Somewhere along the way Gasol lost the efficient air that allowed him to help lead the Lakers toward two NBA titles; somewhere he along the way, he became a shell of his former self.

Now, on the heels of Kupchak's sentiments, it's up to Gasol and his teammates to find a way for him to fit in, lest trade rumors begin to suffocate his production even further.

Where does that start? 

Off the court.

Everyone involved in the organization must understand what Gasol's role is. As we watch him traipse his way up and down the court, void of a concrete direction, the absence of a purpose has never been more evident.

And according to Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers have already begun to put that plan into motion:

The team that was hailed as a championship contender before the season began was collapsing into itself, a broken mess of poor defense and confused offense. Of the many holes they need to patch, perhaps none seemed bigger than Pau Gasol's role.

Gasol is averaging a career-low 12.2 points this season, a five-point drop from last season.

"We had a team conversation that we need to use Pau at the elbow, which we do, and use him and Steve [Nash] as facilitators, which we do," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Using Gasol as a facilitator near the block is a great start. He's one of the most deft-passing bigs in the game and thus a serious threat to drop an unexpected dime off the pick-and-roll.

In fact, of any player 6'10" or taller, Gasol is tied for second with his brother Marc Gasol in assists per game with 3.8, just behind Joakim Noah's average of 4.4.

More important than putting the ball in his hands, though, is putting it in his hands where he is most comfortable. 

Right now, 58.9 percent of Gasol's field-goal attempts are coming outside of nine feet and he's converting on just 30.5 percent of them, an absolutely horrific mark. Once he steps inside of nine feet, however, everything changes.

Within nine feet of the hoop, Gasol is hitting on 44.5 percent of his shot-attempts, a far cry from the 30.5 plateau we just discussed.

The problem?

Less than half of his shots come from within that distance.

So it's not just about putting the ball in Gasol's hands on the elbow. That's a good place for him to dish or drive to the basket, but he needs to get his opportunities in the paint to score.

In a one-in, four-out system like D'Antoni's, that can prove difficult. But if their using Gasol as a facilitator on the block, it becomes much easier. He can run screen-and-rolls with Dwight Howard from that distance if he chooses.

Unconventional? Of course, but it puts the ball back in his hands. More importantly, it puts him back where he isn't out of place.

"We have to be concerned," Gasol had said. "We have to have some sense of urgency. We have to protect our homecourt against anybody and everybody."

And the Lakers must take that same sense of urgency and apply it to Gasol's integration, lest he continue to "figure out" where he fits within this group without ever reaching a point of resolution.

*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 7, 2013.


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