Pau Gasol has never been one to hold his tongue, but his recent words showed nothing but support for injured teammate Kobe Bryant and former coach—and newly named New York Knicks president—Phil Jackson.
Update: March 18 at 6:55 p.m. ET by Joe Flynn
Gasol had some more to say about Jackson's basketball philosophy, per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin (vis Sulia):
He always talked about the Basketball Gods and being rewarded by them when you make the right play out there. When you’re unselfish. When you play as a team. When you play as a unit. His system was predicated on everybody being involved. Everybody kind of touching the ball and getting the shot to the open man, for the most part. So, that’s something that I loved about him and again, how great he was at managing individuals on our team. I thought that that was great because everybody kind of gave their best of what they got and you can see all the players that have been here, when they have gone to other teams, most of them have not done as well.
That is both a ringing endorsement of his former coach and an indictment of some of his former teammates.
--- End of Update ---
With the proverbial light at the end of his tunnel now in focus, Gasol said he understands Bryant's concerns about a potentially lengthy rebuild in L.A. The primary objective for both players, he said, is spending their twilight years in a full-fledged championship pursuit, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
You have to understand that just like me, there’s a couple of years left in his career and he wants to be in that position no matter what. The ideal scenario is not to be the team that sees what happens, let’s be patient, let’s rebuild and let’s get a couple of young players and go from there. That doesn’t bring you championship and makes you win in the short term at least.
Gasol, who's playing on an expiring $19.3 million contract, was careful to point out he doesn't have to share Bryant's concerns.
"He’s tied in the next two years here with a great position and great contract," he said, via Medina. "I’m free and in a different position. I’ll evaluate my options when I have them."
What those options are remains uncertain. But one thing is now abundantly clear—Jackson won't be swooping in to save the Lakers.
Instead, the 13-time champion is off to the Big Apple, an image Gasol said he's still trying to process, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:
Pau also said he thinks that Phil Jackson is worth every cent of his $60 million contract— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 18, 2014
It took $60 million to get Jackson back to the place he began his playing career, but Gasol saw the price tag as fair market value for what the Zen Master will bring, per McMenamin:
Pau on Phil Jackson: "It's weird to see him with a Knick logo behind him"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 18, 2014
Despite public pleas from both Bryant and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, the Lakers did not lure back the coach responsible for guiding the team to its last five titles. Really, that ship probably sailed last season when the Lakers' brass selected Mike D'Antoni instead of Jackson in its coaching search.
Gasol couldn't even imagine how different things might be now had the front office made a different decision then, via Medina:
Pau Gasol says things would have been "different" had Phil Jackson coached the Lakers past two seasons. How? Gasol:" Where should I start?"— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 18, 2014
The Lakers went with a perimeter-oriented coach despite having an interior-based roster. The results have been exactly what you'd expect from a logistical mismatch such as this: a first-round sweep last season, mathematically eliminated from postseason contention this time around.
Whether that's reason enough to necessitate a coaching change is not yet known.
League sources told Sean Deveney of Sporting News that Bryant has "no interest" in playing for D'Antoni in 2014-15. The coach has one guaranteed year left on his contract, but a source told Medina that the Lakers will evaluate their coach once "the season ends so they can fully assess both the roster and their offseason needs."
The players might not have a lot of say in that assessment, but they've already voiced their opinions. It's up to the front office to decide how much, or how little, impact those words will have.
It's safe to assume Gasol will keep a close eye on the sideline. He's had two of the three worst shooting seasons of his career under D'Antoni (46.6 percent last season, 48.3 percent this year).
Still fluid in the post and active on the glass (9.8 rebounds per game), Gasol shouldn't be short on suitors.
Returning to the Lakers doesn't seem out of the question—provided, of course, he doesn't burn that bridge before the season is finished.
Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and accurate as of March 17, 2014.