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.

Jordan Clarkson on Lakers’ win over Knicks: ‘We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing’

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The Lakers outscored the Knicks by one in the first quarter, three in the second quarter, four in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth quarter en route to a 127-107 victory yesterday.

What’s one way to describe that?

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson in his on-court, post-game interview:

We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing.

That quote is obviously fantastic on its own. Making it better: The NBA published it!

Video of the key moment is above.

Report: Kawhi Leonard disconnected from Spurs

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Spurs star Kawhi Leonard missed most of the season with a vexing quad injury, returned, went out with a shoulder injury and is now sidelined indefinitely with the quad injury.

San Antonio (30-18) has played well without Leonard, but apparently this saga has taken a toll behind the scenes.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.

Beyond the current rehab for the right quadriceps injury that has caused Leonard, an All-NBA forward, to miss most of the regular season, there is work to be done to repair what has been until now a successful partnership.

In an interview with ESPN, Buford rejected the reporting of turbulence between the franchise and Leonard.

This is extremely vague. Leonard has always looked like a dutiful follower in the Spurs’ strong Popovich-led culture. Is this just frustration from injuries? Frustration from injuries causing other minor issues to boil over? Something else major entirely?

The Spurs spent big on long-term contracts for Pau Gasol and Patty Mills last summer, arguably jeopardizing Leonard’s chances of winning another title in San Antonio. Leonard is an elite two-way player in his prime (at least when healthy), and the Spurs were seemingly locking into a team that will likely top out at very good, not great.

So, what’s going on with Leonard now? Aldridge’s situation might be illustrative. Everyone in San Antonio denied a problem, as the Spurs are doing now. But Popovich revealed a couple weeks ago that Aldridge requested a trade. Popovich didn’t panic, though. He met with Aldridge, communicated and found a workable solution. The same can and probably will happen with Leonard.

But that’s no guarantee, and Leonard can opt out next year. Until this is settled, it’s a huge issue with potential to shake up typically stable San Antonio – and maybe beyond.

Wizards’ players-only meeting doesn’t go well

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The concept of a “team meeting” is sort of silly. At what does players discussing the team – something that happens nearly every day – rise to “meeting” status?

But these team meetings happen ever year, usually when a team is struggling. The Cavaliers, Thunder and Lakers have already had confabs labeled a “team meeting” this season. Teams usually emerge saying they’ve found solutions to their problems. Sometimes, it translates onto the court. Usually, there’s not a significant turnaround.

I’ve never seen a public response to the meeting itself like with the Wizards, though.

John Wall, via Cam Ellis of NBC Sports Washington:

“At our team meeting, I think a couple guys took it in a negative way,” Wall said after the team’s win in Detroit. “It hurt our team. Instead of using it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a bit.”

Bradley Beal, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“It was tough. I try to keep all our stuff as personal as possible but I think in a way not everybody got a chance to speak whenever they wanted to,” Bradley Beal said. “They didn’t want to bring up an issue or something they had a problem with on the team. Regardless of what may be going on, as men we’ve got to be able to accept what the next man says, be respectful about it and move on from it. I think it was one of those situations where we didn’t necessarily get everything that we wanted to get accomplished.

“Honestly, it was probably — I won’t say pointless,” Beal continued, “but we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting.”

Yeesh.

Nobody seemed to remember exactly when the meeting occurred, which says something. It sounds as if airing grievances actually hurt team chemistry.

The Wizards (26-20) are good, but not as good as hoped/expected. They too often coast against bad teams, and coach Scott Brooks has openly questioned their effort. So, what’s the solution?

Wall, via Buckner:

“Front office got to figure it out.”

If you’re one of Wall’s teammates who clashed at the meeting, and now you’re hearing him bring it up publicly and imply roster moves might be the solution, how would you feel about your future in Washington?

Rajon Rondo invites Ray Allen to 2008 Celtics reunion

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The 2008 Celtics are finally doing something that isn’t petty.

Rajon Rondo was planning a reunion vacation for that championship team while specifically not inviting Ray Allen. Allen ruffled feathers by leaving Boston for the Heat, and many Celtics held a grudge.

But Paul Pierce eventually said it’s time to move on, and now Rondo is also ready.

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Rondo said Allen has an open invitation to join his former teammates this summer.

“Everybody [on the team] is invited,” he said.

This is how it should be. Allen was a free agent, free to sign with Miami or wherever he wanted. Not that it should matter here, but the Celtics tried to trade him before he left. And Pierce and Kevin Garnett also left Boston, Pierce talking Garnett into waiving his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to the Nets.

It’s not clear how Garnett, another leader in the charge against Allen, feels about welcoming him. But, presumably, he’ll take a cue from Rondo. Garnett probably won’t be the one calling Allen with the trip details, though.

The big question now: Who gives Scot Pollard the itinerary?