The Los Angeles Lakers may have won their third straight game against the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night, but coach Mike D’Antoni made a questionable decision that could hurt the team in the long run.
D’Antoni kept a relatively effective Pau Gasol glued to the bench for the entirety of the fourth quarter of a close game, instead choosing to show favor to NBA journeyman and the recently named starter Earl Clark.
As expected, the 32-year-old forward was not happy about this after the game, even though his team earned the W.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Gasol was quick to voice his displeasure after the 111-106 victory at the Staples Center: "I'm a competitor, I'm a guy that thinks I bring a lot to the table, and not being on the floor is something that I don't like, I don't appreciate.”
Considering the Spaniard had seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 21 minutes of play prior to the final quarter, it’s clear he adds an extra dimension—especially in terms of facilitating—to the Lakers when he is on the court.
Should Gasol have been benched in the fourth quarter?
However, his shooting numbers are off, as Gasol was only able to drain one of four attempts from the field while shooting 5-of-8 from the charity stripe. Compared to Clark’s 8-of-11 FG (4-of-5 3PT), it’s not a stretch to see why D’Antoni went with the 25-year-old in this particular contest.
The head coach didn’t acknowledge that, rather disclosing that he went with the more athletic, 6’10” Clark over the technically sound, but lumbering 7’0" Gasol for matchup reasons (as per McMenamin): “They went small. I couldn't get Pau back in there because of the lineup change.”
Back in 2008, the Lakers went all-in to nab Gasol, a move that netted them three NBA Finals appearances and two titles. He was unquestionably key to the franchise’s success and would have never been on the pine in the fourth quarter with Phil Jackson coaching.
D’Antoni seems a bit overmatched and is trying to fit veterans Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Gasol into his run-and-gun system. The team has found a modicum of instant success with Clark starting at the 4 and Gasol coming off the bench, but it may pay the long-term price for it.
While Gasol is adamant he will accept whatever role is assigned and will not request a trade (according to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger), he is obviously having a tough time adapting.
If these Lakers are going to make a run to the postseason and want a chance to advance deep into it, they need to find a way to keep Gasol actively involved—especially in crunch-time situations.