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.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.

League buzz: Kings will take Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, Luka Doncic gone at three

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It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.

The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.

After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.

At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.

If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.

How is it going to shake out?

That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:

1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges

The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.