Pau Gasol benched in latest Lakers loss, wants more touches in the post

28 Comments

The Lakers have lost two straight after winning their first with Mike D’Antoni in place on the sidelines, and in both of those games, the frontcourt combination of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol was completely shut down.

The home win over Brooklyn was solid, but the loss in Sacramento was embarrassing, and the loss in Memphis — against what is currently the league’s best team — was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was how easily teams would deal with Gasol and Howard in the paint, and be able to hold them to numbers that aren’t even acceptable for one All-Star starting big man, let alone two of them combined.

Howard has the excuse of not yet being at 100 percent, while still working his way back conditioning-wise after undergoing back surgery over the summer. With Gasol, there seems to be less room for excuses, and less patience all around.

D’Antoni benched Gasol for the entire fourth quarter in Memphis, instead sticking with Antawn Jamison, who was having his most productive game as a Laker on both ends of the floor. He said afterward he did so because he wanted to win the game, meaning obviously that what Gasol was giving him on this night would not be enough to get that accomplished.

Afterward, Gasol blamed his lack of touches in the post for his subpar performance. From Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“All my looks are jump shots,” he said. “I would like to see something closer to the basket and not just rolling, especially when Dwight is there. But we’ll see. We’ll figure it out. We’re just starting, pretty much.”

“I’m not a pure jump-shooter,” he said. “I can stretch the defense out and make a couple jumpers. But how I get going is by getting in the paint and creating off the post, things like that.

“That’s historically how I’ve been really successful and made a really good name for myself and earned my contracts. But hopefully I’ll find a way and we’ll find a way to get me a few opportunities there and get myself going in that way and be more effective.”

Gasol would certainly benefit from getting more post-up opportunities, but he’d need to do that alongside someone not named Dwight Howard for that to happen. Maybe those touches can come when playing with Jordan Hill or Antawn Jamison at the four during stretches when Gasol gets some run as the de facto center with the second unit. Like last year playing alongside Andrew Bynum, it’s going to be difficult to play him in the post with Howard demanding that space when the two are sharing the floor.

What’s odd about Gasol’s complaint, though, is that plenty of his looks were wide open, even 17-20 feet from the basket. He’s more than a capable shooter from there, and if you look at the shot chart below from Friday night’s game, even the one shot he made on the left side of the paint came after receiving the ball near the top of the circle, and then driving to the basket to score in the game’s early minutes.

source:

Presumably, the Lakers offense will find its way once Steve Nash (and even Steve Blake) make their way back into the lineup; there’s simply too much talent there not to show some serious improvement, at least in theory.

But Gasol needs to remain engaged along the way for that to happen. On nights when he’s not getting the touches in the spots he desires, he needs to make the most of his opportunities for the Lakers to have a shot.

Just a reminder: Spurs hope to repair relationship with Kawhi Leonard, offer-him $219 million

Associated Press
Leave a comment

It’s everyone’s favorite parlor game around the NBA: Where will Kawhi Leonard play next season? Philadelphia? Los Angeles? Somewhere else? Fans of 29 teams are posting their trade scenarios online, while GMs of 29 teams privately have tried to come up with offers that could tempt San Antonio.

The most likely answer: San Antonio.

While the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs is frayed — and with the people close to Leonard and in his ear seemingly trying to push him out the door — the Spurs would rather keep one of the five best players in the NBA (when healthy) in-house. From Tom Osbourne of the San Antonio Express-News.

Still, the Spurs hope to meet with Leonard and his representatives soon in a bid to mend fences and pave the way for Leonard to come to terms on a five-year $219 million supermax contract that he will be eligible to receive starting July 1. If attempts to patch up the relationship fail, the Spurs will be forced to explore trading a player coach Gregg Popovich once labeled “the future face of the franchise.”

The timing of that meeting has been slowed in part because of the death of Popovich’s wife and everyone involved understandably giving him all the space wants. It will happen.

Can the relationship be salvaged? Maybe, $219 million can mend a lot of fences. There are things the Spurs can and would be willing to do to promote Leonard more (although that all starts with him getting out of his comfort zone and building his brand, starting with speaking more in public). Also, Gregg Popovich was able to sooth LaMarcus Aldridge‘s ego when the big man demanded a trade, and not only did the player stay he had an All-NBA level season. Popovich and Leonard still have a strong relationship.

Is that enough? Time will tell, but people around the league think at best it’s a coin flip. Things are not good right now. However, the Spurs will get the first crack at fixing this before they are forced to consider a trade.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

Getty Images
4 Comments

Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

Getty Images
3 Comments

The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
5 Comments

Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

image

Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.