As Gasol has struggled to return from torn plantar fascia, the Lakers have gone 13-6 with Earl Clark starting at power forward alongside Howard.
Mike D'Antoni has come out and said that Gasol will eventually return to his starting role when he's healthy, via the Los Angeles Daily News.
That would be the wrong move.
Much like the New York Knicks did with Amar'e Stoudemire when he returned from injury this season, the Lakers should use Gasol as a sixth man off the bench when he's healthy.
The Knicks were in a similar position with Stoudemire earlier this season, riding a hot streak when he was ready to return, and decided to use him off the bench. They didn't want to risk losing the momentum and chemistry they had when he was absent from the lineup.
The Lakers have come too far to disrupt what they've accomplished down the stretch. They've won six of their last seven contests headed into Monday's game against the Suns. That includes a victory over the Indiana Pacers last Friday. They currently hold the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference, but the Utah Jazz sit just one game back after playing two fewer games.
This is no time for the Lakers to try to find a way for Gasol to fit into the offense. They have no margin for error. One misstep could mean no playoffs.
The Knicks' move to use Stoudemire off the bench seemed to work well before he suffered another knee injury. If he had qualified this season, his PER of 21.9 would have ranked 15th in the NBA, via Basketball-Reference.com. He also shot 58 percent from the floor, his highest mark since the 2007-08 campaign.
Now, Stoudemire is a different player than Gasol, but it just goes to show you that using a former All-Star as a sixth man can be done. In fact, sometimes it must be done.
Kobe Bryant's injury aside, everything has been running smoothly for the Lakers. In fact, Bryant played only 12 minutes against Indiana and the Lakers still won.
The chemistry the Lakers didn't have before is now staring D'Antoni right in the face. Plugging Gasol back into the starting lineup as if nothing would change is not only the wrong move, it's ignorant.
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