If no grand improvement is seen over the rest of the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers will reach a crossroads with forward Pau Gasol this summer. The Spanish seven-footer has struggled in head coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense along with the rest of the team, and GM Mitch Kupchak has a decision to make with team owner Jerry Buss.
Will the team take a Mulligan on D'Antoni and choose the man who has helped them win two championships, or will D'Antoni get another chance and Gasol sent packing via a trade?
It's really a tough call. The Lakers have so much potential to do well in D'Antoni's system, but Gasol and star center Dwight Howard are clearly uncomfortable in his offense. Both are best when used in the low post, and D'Antoni's heavy use of the pick-and-roll and insistence that the 4 be a stretch position has resulted in inconsistent play from both players.
Seeing that Howard is an impending free agent, one would think that the decision wouldn't be so difficult for Lakers management.
On Gasol's end, it's an even more difficult decision. This is the man who has been a force for the team for almost five-and-a-half seasons, but now they're willing to toss him aside in favor of a coach whose track record is average at best?
Granted, to D'Antoni's credit, he did try and smooth things over with Gasol over dinner. Unfortunately, it did not seem to do much, as Gasol told T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times.
"It was an effort on our part to try and come to an understanding," Gasol said. "But I don't think it's translated to an understanding. Nothing significant has happened; it's probably even gone a little backwards."
Gasol then went on to say how it would be tough to stay a Laker if both D'Antoni and Howard were back next year, thus presenting the crossroads the Lakers are at right now. Do the Lakers admit defeat with D'Antoni and bring in a more traditional coach, or does Kupchak decide to undertake the epic task of trying to find a team that will take on Gasol's contract?
Who is more important to the Lakers' future?
Keep in mind that Gasol's deal does expire after next season, but he is set to make $19.3 million and will be on the wrong side of 33 on opening night. More importantly, he's at the stage in his career where he's going to want to play for a winning team and not as the sole veteran presence on a young lottery squad.
Of course, that all depends on the avenue that the Lakers try to pursue. They can either remain in denial and try to win with D'Antoni, or they can go back to an old formula that they know works and use Gasol in a way that he can be effective.
Seeing as how loyalty should still count for something, the choice is obvious. It's just a matter of Kupchak and Buss seeing that and making the right choice as a result.