Pau Gasol wants to start, but Mike D’Antoni may continue to bring him off the bench

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The Lakers don’t need any more problems in this troubled season, one in which the team is merely trying to figure things out just enough to sneak back into the playoff picture before time runs out.

But there may be one brewing between Pau Gasol and Mike D’Antoni.

When Gasol missed five games due to a concussion, reserve Earl Clark made the most of his opportunity, and proved to be a serviceable big in Gasol’s absence.

In Gasol’s first game back from the injury, he came off the bench due to concerns over his conditioning, but that was believed to be a short-term role for the player who was a part of two championship teams in Los Angeles.

It turns out, however, that Mike D’Antoni is strongly considering bringing Gasol off the bench more permanently. And that’s not something that’s going to sit well with Gasol.

From Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles:

My job is to put the best team on the floor,” D’Antoni explained after admitting that he had not yet decided if Gasol or Clark would start against the Raptors. “If I feel like (starting Gasol is) the best way to go, then we’ll go that way. If I don’t, it’s nothing personal. It’s just that I got to do what I think is right. I think every player has to accept what is right, whether they like it or not. So, that’s the bottom line.

“Now, does he deserve to start? Yeah, he does. He’s been here a long time and probably that will happen, but if it doesn’t, then you know what? You got to go on. You got to contribute. You got teammates to think about. You got the Lakers to think about. You got to do whatever is best for the Lakers.”

That all sounds fine, and D’Antoni is right — if in fact the best lineup combinations for the team involve Gasol beginning the game as a reserve, then theoretically, so be it. Gasol should be fine with it for the greater good of the team, etc.

Managing egos, however, is a huge part of being a successful head coach in the NBA, especially at the championship level. The ability to do that masterfully, more than anything, is the reason why Phil Jackson has 11 rings as a coach. Sure, he had all the talent in the world. But getting Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to coexist long enough for the Lakers to get three straight titles out of the pair before things went south was no small feat, and D’Antoni risks alienating Gasol if he doesn’t take into account the ego of one of the team’s best players, and one who is among those Bryant trusts the most.

Gasol will, of course, do his best to make it work. But his comments on the situation were telling, as he made it clear that he’s not going to be thrilled if indeed the decision is made to continue to bring him off the bench.

“I’ve never come off the bench in my career,” Gasol said. “(Thursday) was my first game off the bench with the Lakers, maybe a couple other games due to injuries, but that’s it. I’ve been a starter my entire career. I’ve been a star starter my entire career, so I want to continue to be a star starter.”

A “star starter.” There’s the ego piece creeping in, and again, D’antoni needs to be sensitive to that.

Now, to the coach’s credit, he’s said more than once that it isn’t who starts the games that matter; it’s who finishes them. And he practiced what he preached in Thursday’s game against Miami — Gasol came off the bench and played just 24 minutes, but was on the floor with the rest of the starters for the entire fourth quarter when the game was in the balance.

As we discussed on the podcast, there’s an easy way to make this work. D’Antoni could placate Gasol by starting him for the game’s first four-to-six minutes, and then rotate him how he sees fit the rest of the contest, before inserting him down the stretch with the rest of the players who make up the team’s strongest lineup.

D’Antoni has a reputation of being a bit stubborn where player matters are concerned, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go with Gasol as a reserve for another game or two. But it would be to the long-term detriment of his team, and this season more than any other, the Lakers simply don’t need any more problems.

Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis lead way, Bulls blow out Kyrie-less Celtics 108-85

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CHICAGO (AP) — Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are starting to draw attention for their play together instead of their fight with each other.

Mirotic scored 24 points, Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA’s worst record, the Bulls (6-20) built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Leading the way were two players who made headlines for all the wrong reasons before the season started.

Their fight at practice left Mirotic with facial fractures, causing him to miss the first 23 games. Portis served an eight-game suspension.

But the two have played well together the past two games.

“We need to give the credit to (coach Fred Hoiberg),” Mirotic said. “Fred is the one who is making us play. He’s the guy who is calling the plays for us and putting us in the right spots to play.”

As for the fight?

“Man, that situation’s over,” Portis said. “Everybody’s talking about that. But that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just trying to win games.”

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms and shot 9 of 14 with eight rebounds. Through three games, the 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 16.3 points.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston (23-6). Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics’ most lopsided loss of the season.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked. It was simple as that,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Chicago dictated the whole game. They played harder than we did. They played with more presence than we did. They played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”

 

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.