Lakers News: Latest on Pau Gasol's Future, Steve Nash's Defensive Woes and More
Lost amid the Los Angeles Lakers' habit of dropping like flies due to injury is the fact that they are currently on a bit of a hot streak. Mike D'Antoni's club has won six of its last seven contests, including three games against teams currently in the playoff picture.
The recent run puts the Lakers at 23-26 and just 3.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for eighth place in the Western Conference. Hey, it isn't NBA championship contention or anything, but Los Angelenos will take the positive signs where they can get them.
As (bad) luck would have it, the scoreboard is just about the only place for good news in Lakerland. Pau Gasol left Tuesday night's victory over the Brooklyn Nets with a strained plantar fasciitis and will have an MRI on Wednesday, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin.
Gasol has also been in the news lately after candid comments on his future with the franchise. What did he say?
Here is a look at the latest on Gasol and the rest of the news currently being bandied about in Los Angeles.
Pau Gasol Not Requesting Trade Before Deadline, But Offseason a Possibility
Understandably, most of the focus in Los Angeles is on Gasol's injured foot. He left the arena on crutches Tuesday night (per ESPN's Dave McMenamin) and the prognosis doesn't exactly seem good at the moment.
However, before he was injured, Gasol sat down with the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers for an extensive interview on his season. The embattled forward-center spoke on his relationship with Mike D'Antoni (spoiler alert: not too peachy), scoffed at Jim Buss' notion that he was happy with less playing time and addressed the question on everyone's mind: his future with the Lakers.
Though Gasol made it clear he would not request a trade before February's deadline, making a move before the 2013-14 season seemed very possible if Dwight Howard and D'Antoni were still around.
Here is a how Simers' conversation with Gasol went, per the Los Angeles Times:
"It would be hard for me to deal with another season knowing the facts you just mentioned," said Gasol, 32 and with one year remaining on his contract.
"So do you ask for a fresh start elsewhere?"
"It's a possibility," he said, "yes."
Gasol's candor can't exactly make anyone in the City of Angels happy, but it's an understandable position. D'Antoni may be the only person on the planet who feels he's properly using Gasol's skill set. And at 32 years old, Gasol isn't at the point in his basketball life where he can be patient with D'Antoni's inability to adjust his scheme for two dominant big men.
Gasol later goes on to tell Simers that he feels loyalty to the Lakers organization and loves Los Angeles. However, it's become clear that the Spaniard knows his time with the team is rapidly drawing to a close and he's making plans for his impending exit.
Steve Nash the Lakers' Defensive Problem
For all of the talk of how Howard and Gasol "don't fit" in D'Antoni's offensive system, it's been defense that has ailed the Lakers this season. They are 17th in the league in defensive efficiency and have gotten appreciably worse during D'Antoni's tenure on that end.
Though most did not expect the Lakers' struggles to be this vast, their defensive inefficiency isn't much of a shock. Dwight Howard is the only elite defender among the Lakers' best players and he's struggled to find his former Defensive Player of the Year skills this season.
However, one Eastern Conference executive isn't ready to blame Howard or Kobe Bryant. According to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com, an Eastern Conference executive told him that the Lakers' defensive problem begins with point guard Steve Nash:
People act like this is a Kobe issue and he's not the problem. The problem is he's trying to do the work, at least on defense, of both guards. He's trying to guard the guy Nash needs to be guarding. And that doesn't allow the Lakers to play on a string defensively because you can't hide Nash. He's a defensive liability, same as he's been for years ... With the Lakers, his inability to deal with younger, more physical and more athletic point guards has been a huge issue.
Anyone who has watched Lakers games this season knows the executive is not wrong. The team consistently puts Nash on the opposing team's worst perimeter target, leaving Bryant (or sometimes Metta World Peace) to defend point guards.
As one would expect, the results haven't gone well. Bryant is a lax defender himself at this point in his career (especially off the ball), and World Peace hasn't had the quickness to defend guards in a half decade.
The Lakers are also appreciably better on defense when Nash is on the bench, per NBA.com.
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a fix in this situation. The Lakers' backup point guard spot is a well-documented abomination, and D'Antoni is only in the business of upsetting his big men, apparently.
So, barring a team-wide effort to hide Nash's deficiencies (and good luck with that), it seems highly likely that the Lakers will have to settle for being a bad defensive club.
Howard Speaks on Shoulder/Back Recoveries
The Lakers will assuredly continue to struggle defensively as long as their star center is out of the lineup. Howard missed his third straight game on Tuesday and sixth overall this season with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder.
His continued absence due to the shoulder only continues to complicate his return from back surgery last season. Despite not missing a game all season due to that particular ailment, it's been clear to anyone who's watching Howard that he's not the same player. He doesn't get off the floor as quickly down low on offense, nor has he been as physically imposing on the defensive end.
But just how healed is Howard's back? It's at 75 percent if you believe the 27-year-old center. Speaking at length about his recovery from back surgery with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, Howard noted just how much of a work in progress his health remains:
Well with my back you know, it's not all the way there, 75 percent. And with my shoulder, it's day to day. This is the first year recovering off of a back surgery. I really don't think people understand the severity of the surgery and the injury, and how long it takes to recover. Even sitting down in this chair right now is causing my legs to go numb, and just having this tingling sensation all the way down my legs. So, that happens when I'm playing. That happens when I'm just sitting on the bench for a couple minutes. It's not easy.
The continued numbness and tingling sensations cannot make anyone in the Lakers organization feel too great. Back injuries are historically chronic ailments and if Howard is still experiencing that level of discomfort, it's hard not to wonder about his future.
All that being said, Howard is still arguably the NBA's best center at 75 percent. He's still averaging 16.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, and the Lakers are four points better with him on the floor per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.
Will Howard ever be the second- or third-best player in the league again? That's questionable. But even this version of Howard is certainly in the top-10 conversation.
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