Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni admitted as much before the Lakers' 95-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday, with his decision to move Gasol to the bench, and keep him there "for the foreseeable future," (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles).
D'Antoni suggested that Gasol and Dwight Howard will rarely share the floor in his new rotation. The fact that the duo average a combined 68.9 minutes per game suggests a sharp decline in playing time for either of the big men, or both. That number dipped to just 55 combined minutes against the Bulls, with neither player topping the 30-minute mark.
Despite dwindling playoff hopes (at 17-24, L.A. sits 12th in the Western Conference standings), the Lakers and their $100 million-plus payroll aren't going to throw in the towel anytime soon. A change appears imminent, and Gasol is well aware that he could be the odd man out.
TNT's Craig Sager recounted the pregame conversation he had with the Lakers forward during the Lakers-Bulls telecast on Monday night:
Now, Pau Gasol I talked to before the game—he is not at all happy with the decision. He says, "I have never been a role player in my life; I don't like it right now."
I said, "What about a possibility of maybe your time with the Lakers coming to an end with the All-Star break...the trade deadline?"
He said, "It certainly looks like a possibility to me."
D'Antoni's decision to bench Gasol might not appear as drastic as it truly is. After all, with a growing margin separating the team from a postseason berth, the coach needed to try something.
The slumping Gasol (with career-worsts of 12.6 points and 43.2 field-goal percentage coming into Monday night) was the most obvious candidate for demotion. The move came just one week after Gasol told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times that moving to the bench was "not something that [he] would enjoy."
And it wasn't wavering despite an efficient 15-point, 12-rebound performance in 25-plus minutes as a reserve in Monday night's game with the Chicago Bulls. The fact that the Lakers were dealt their ninth loss in their past 11 games certainly didn't help:
Pau Gasol to @laireland on his new role: "I'm not excited about it...but right now I'm more worried about us as a team."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) January 22, 2013
It appears, on the surface, that D'Antoni's decision was nothing more than his admittance that he's unable (or unwilling) to coach a team featuring two post presences. His coaching history made this evident to analysts questioning L.A.'s selection of the up-tempo coach back in November.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, even if they wanted to trade Gasol tonight, it's not as simple as deciding that he isn't part of their future plans and immediately finding equal value on the trade market, as Yahoo! Sports scribe Adrian Wojnarowski pointed out:
Trade market for Pau Gasol complicated because Lakers have made clear that they don't want back long-term money in deal, league sources say.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 22, 2013
Given Gasol's age (32 years old), contract (due a combined $38.2 million for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons) and declining production, the trade market isn't exactly flooded with teams rushing to acquire his services.
Throw in the lack of available, coveted assets to include in a trade by the aging Lakers, and unloading the Spaniard becomes an ever greater task for GM Mitch Kupchak.
The Lakers' best (or only) move at this point may be retaining the 11-year veteran and hoping that his demotion provides the kind of spark that D'Antoni has been unable to ignite. As the offensive focal point of the second unit, Gasol's individual performance could improve. But that means little if there isn't a steady performance from the starters to support.
At some point, perhaps the Lakers will gauge the trade value of Howard, a marquee impending free agent. It's not as if their confidence in Superman staying in L.A. can be growing when he's seeing limited shots coming his way, as was the case on Monday night with five total attempts.
But this is the NBA, after all—a league where anything is possible.
Which is a fact that the talent-rich Lakers and their rabid fans have grown uncomfortably familiar with this season.
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