Pau Gasol looked like the most polished big man on the planet Wednesday in Lithuania, dropping 29 points on Poland on just 12 shots, plus grabbing seven rebounds.
Which is a far cry from how he season ended for the Lakers and Gasol, when they were unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks. Gasol, like every Laker that series, was ineffective.
But Gasol took the brunt of Lakers fans abuse, with some returning to calling him soft and calling for a trade. This is the guy who dropped 19 points and 18 boards against the Boston front line in Game 7 one year ago, the guy who outplayed Dwight Howard in the post two finals ago and helped the team win two rings. But he’s soft. You wonder why Lakers fans get mocked.
However, clearly Gasol was not as his peak against the Mavericks. Over at the Los Angeles Times they asked Gasol if getting back on the court was a chance to get the bad taste out of the playoffs out of his mouth.
“I do not think there’s anything to prove on my side,” Gasol said via email when asked if he was eager to put the Lakers’ postseason behind him. “Last season we didn’t perform during the playoffs as we were supposed to. . . . You cannot win every year; there are a lot of very good teams in the league.”
And here come the Lakers fans complaining in 5…4…3…
Look, he is a finesse player, but that is different than soft. Gasol is skilled and smart. Gasol has fire in him, but it doesn’t always burn white hot. Phil Jackson poked him in the chest and tried to get him fired up during that Dallas series, but like the rest of the Lakers he looked physically and mentally out of it. Nothing worked.
But the Lakers are not going to win a title without Gasol in the post. Lakers fans need to embrace him, not hold him at arms length. He follows in a line of legendary big men with that franchise and they wouldn’t have the recent rings without him.
The second round was supposed to be when things got exciting. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs put on an absolute clinic at home, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-92 to take a 1-0 series lead.
Just about everything went in for San Antonio, particularly for LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, who combined for 63 points. How dominant were they?
Aldridge in particular got anything he wanted against the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s stars were quiet, with Kevin Durant scoring just 16 points and Russell Westbrook 14. San Antonio controlled the game from the start and Oklahoma City never recovered from the opening punch.
It’s hard to imagine Durant and Westbrook are this ineffective again, and hopefully the rest of this series will be a little more competitive. But the Spurs did what the Spurs do, and did nothing to shake the feeling that they’re the favorites to win the west, now that Stephen Curry‘s status is unknown.
ATLANTA (AP) A year ago, Atlanta’s magical season ended with a resounding sweep by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference final.
Now, the Hawks have another shot at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Feeling confident after an opening-round victory over Boston, the Hawks returned to practice Saturday to begin preparations for the best-of-seven series.
Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland.
The Hawks were the top-seeded team in the East last season after a record 60-win campaign. It didn’t do them much good against the Cavaliers, who steamrolled Atlanta in four straight games.
Even though they slipped to 48 wins and fourth in the conference, the Hawks actually sound a bit more confident heading into this matchup, largely because of their improved defense and rebounding.
For the second consecutive year, the Warriors have lost their lead assistant to another team. When the Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry during last year’s playoffs, Steve Kerr promoted Luke Walton to associate head coach and added former journeyman big man Jarron Collins to the bench. Now that Walton is headed to the Lakers as their next head coach, the Warriors will go outside the organization to find a replacement, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. And one name that will likely not be in the mix is David Blatt, who very nearly became an assistant under Kerr in 2014 before being offered the Cavaliers’ head job.
Given Walton’s success this season as interim head coach while Kerr recovered from back surgery, this will undoubtedly be the most attractive assistant job in the league.
In the last few years, NBA head coaching salaries have skyrocketed, and new Lakers coach Luke Walton is no exception. According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan, Walton is getting $25 million over five years, which is the same as Steve Kerr’s deal with the Warriors, now-former Knicks coach Derek Fisher’s deal in New York, and Fred Hoiberg’s deal with the Bulls.
This kind of money has become standard for head coaches who don’t also have front-office power. Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy both get between $7 and $8 million annually to do both jobs. Given how good Walton’s current situation with the Warriors is, the Lakers probably had to be on the high end of the coaching spectrum to get him to leave.