|07 December 2012|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Pau Gasol joined the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2007-08 season|
One would expect Pau Gasol to be feeling quite miserable these days.
The Los Angeles Lakers big man is averaging 12.6 points per game, far lower than even his rookie NBA season in 2001/02, on just 42% shooting from the floor, also the lowest mark in his NBA career.
His team are off to a horrible 9-10 start in the Western Conference, despite the big-name signings they made in the summer, bringing in the likes of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
Not a day goes by that the media do not serve up another rumour of a Gasol transfer, with NBA experts now taking for granted that he will be traded to most likely either Toronto or Minnesota once Nash - who has not featured yet due to injury - is back in the team.
To make things worse, the Barcelona-born center 'has been hampered by tendinitis in both knees this season,' according to the Lakers website, and last played on Sunday against Orlando Magic.
Gasol is listed as ‘day-to-day', but he will sit again on the bench against Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night and is not expected to return to action before next week, at best.
"Right now I am physically at around 60 percent of my abilities," the EuroBasket 2009 MVP said in an interview with Canal Plus.
"It wasn't good for me, it wasn't good for the team, perhaps I should have [sat out] earlier."
The Spanish TV crew travelled to New Orleans to shoot the interview on Wednesday night and were expecting to meet a troubled man.
Yet they found a very relaxed Gasol sitting in front of the camera and speaking with zen-like calm.
"Aren't you preoccupied with all that's going on?" journalist José Ajero revealed that he asked the big man while the crew were setting up.
"Why should I be, has anything happened to my brothers? Has anything happened to my family?" came the surprising answer, in form of a rhetorical question, from the 32-year-old player.
Coping With The Critique
Gasol was then asked, on the record, to comment on the remarks that his team-mate Kobe Bryant made in front of the cameras following Sunday's loss to Orlando.
The charismatic scorer called on Pau to 'put on the big boy pants' and 'adapt', further fuelling a tendency to use Gasol as a scapegoat for all of the Lakers' troubles this season.
"I'm not worried about post-game quotes," Gasol dismissed the fuss.
"In the heat of the moment, there can be a statement that maybe you would not make a day or a week later.
"It wasn't such a big deal and it's been taken a bit out of context.
"[Kobe] wants to win [NBA champion's] rings, in one way or the other, with whatever players is possible."
Which brings up the issue of personnel on the California team and the intense transfer talk.
"When a team of this stature does not function well, there will always be rumours, it's something you have to understand," Gasol said.
"For everyone on the team to be happy, we have to win games."
Gasol is in his sixth season in Los Angeles and by now he has a full understanding of the values of the franchise and the media attention being on the team everyone in the US either loves, or loves to hate.
He also happens to be one of the greatest European players of all time, a World Champion, two-time European Champion, and two-time Olympic silver medallist with Spain.
His rich experience, combined with his innate humility perhaps help put into perspective incidents or attitudes that could be interpreted as manifestations of lack of respect towards him.
In fact, Gasol has dealt with all this before, every year after the Lakers' last NBA title in 2010, transfer rumours and unsupportive remarks by Bryant included.
Adapting To A New Style Of Play
What he has never experienced before in his career, at Barcelona, Memphis Grizzles, Lakers, or with Spain, is his individual style of play being out of sync with the way the team plays.
New Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni favours an up-tempo game and prefers mobile big men that can run-n-gun first and ask questions later.
"The physical demands are higher, the rhythm is elevated, the system is based on the perimeter game and us two inside players have to adapt to this and be a second option," Gasol confirmed.
Fans and media on the other side of the Atlantic often tend to forget that Gasol is, in fact, a 2.16m center.
He has moved to the power forward position at the Lakers in recent years to accommodate first Andrew Bynum and now Howard, because he is technically skilled to do so.
Ironically, for someone who is being called upon to adapt, he is the one player on the team who has modified his game and has never complained in any way about it.
It's true that former Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo often used Pau in tandem with another big man, his brother Marc, during EuroBasket 2011.
The end result in Lithuania was of course nothing short than spectacular.
|Gasol is adapting to a new style of play under new head coach MikeD'Antoni|
The important difference is that Spain's was more of a twin tower formation, with the frontcourt duo alternating on the low and high posts, whereas now Gasol is playing far outside his usual zone of action.
The Lakers' shot charts in the games under D'Antoni show that, for the first time in his career, he is taking more shots from mid- and long-range than from within three or four metres from the rim.
"In the last 10-12 years I've been a player at positions closer to the basket and I'm capable of dropping further away, but not the other way around," Gasol described the situation in a nutshell.
"But I think I can adapt to this system and help the team just like any other player, whether it favours [my style] or not.
"In a team, you have to leave your personal beliefs on one side and deal with reality."
Another fact that is often overlooked in the US is that D'Antoni spent 20 years of his career in Europe.
He was the floor general of the great Olimpia Milano side in the 80's, playing alongside none other than legendary big man Dino Meneghin for 12 seasons.
After he finished his playing career at Olimpia, he was given the chance to become a coach in Milano, stayed at the helm of the team for four years and also coached Benetton Treviso for another four years.
D'Antoni spent a total of 20 years in Europe and collaborated harmonically with European players after his return to the NBA too.
"I'm not going to go away from Pau; he'll get better physically, and as soon as he gets over this and that, he'll be better," the Lakers coach said after Sunday's game.
It remains to be seen whether they can adapt to each other and make it work.
If not, maybe Pau's future in the NBA lies away from sunny California, in the cold settings of Canada or Minneapolis.
Whatever happens, Gasol will remain calm, as a great sportsman who knows he has tried his best and has nothing to prove to anyone.