Pau Gasol: Western Conference Player of the Month, but can he shoot par?
Well, that remains to be seen. Or perhaps not, as El Spaniard had no plans to swing the wrenches in today's charity tournament at the Riviera Country Club to benefit the Lakers Youth Foundation. Like all of his teammates, Gasol was there after practice to meet and greet participants and benefactors (which works out fantastic, since attendance was mandatory). But Gasol said he wanted to avoid expending any additional energy, what with all the minutes he's logging these days. But any lack of enthusiasm for the links shouldn't be mistaken for indifference towards his latest honor, earned for a February sporting numbers of nearly 21/11/5, with a block and just 1.4 turnovers along the way. Stats worthy of celebration, as even the typically modest Gasol would agree. "I think I've played pretty well (last) month. I'm very satisfied with my contribution. There are a couple games I would have liked to have played better, but you can't play always at your best every single game."
For fans of the seven-footer (or just those tracking research to eventually pen his unauthorized biography), this not only marks this the first time Pau has received this honor during his eight-year career, but he's also the first Laker not named "Kobe," "Bean" or "Bryant to win it since the departure of a certain center named "O'Neal." (Seriously, I did the research and shocking as it may seem, Brian Cook never won.) While proud of Pau and certainly in agreement of his worthiness, Phil Jackson felt those digits could have rounded out more gaudy. "I just chided him in there that he should have had 50 points yesterday (against Phoenix)," smiled PJ. "The reality is that he had a lot of easy looks, easy shots that he was shooting well, hesitated a little bit and didn't shoot them." While that unselfishness needs to be curbed at times, in the bigger picture, the coach can easily live with an instinct to involve his mates. "That's what makes him a really good player, that he's a team player and does the right thing."
That "squad-first" mentality Jackson cited means Pau won't brazenly pad his stats in an effort to remain the plaque owner when March wraps up. Asked if he thought the team was better served with a more balanced effort, rather than a "big two" (or often three) leading the way every day, Gasol didn't hesitate to pick the former. "I think that would be better than two guys having huge numbers and the rest of the team not having as many opportunities. That doesn't give us balance. It might happen for a game. It might happen for two games. But I don't think it's the best formula for any team to be a championship team, so we have to get back to having a little more balance offensively."
By and large, Lamar Odom has done his part to make sure that wealth remains spread, although the last couple games saw him struggle to make his mark due to foul trouble. In particular, yesterday's game against the Suns saw him drenched in whistles until he was finally told to take a permanent seat. So how to go about reversing this trend? Well, the answer doesn't come by tiptoeing through the metaphorical tulips. "I have to keep playing aggressive. I can't let fouls being called against me take away my aggressiveness. I (also) have to play smart. Play with my feet and not my hands. As LO acknowledged, that balance comes through a referee's benefit of the doubt, a little luck and some common sense. "I've had a couple of calls where it could have gone either way, I guess. And that one call I would like to take back is that jump shot on Grant Hill (for his fifth foul against Phoenix). That let me know I was out of it, if I make a bonehead play like that. It's just something that can't happen."
It's easy to figure LO can bounce back tomorrow against Memphis, given how well he's played since Andrew Bynum's injury. The bench unit he vacated, however, remains tougher to extend the same confidence, as their rut has been quite steady during the same time frame. I asked Gasol, who's seen increased PT with Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic and Josh Powell, what he felt could be the reason for the drastic struggles. He didn't hesitate to get pointed with his suggestions.
"Youth, that's a factor. And I don't know. Maybe a little bit of a lack of maturity at some points. And experience. We all have to understand our roles. Whichever role that is and what's best for the team and what you need to do, and understand what you need to do, and not (necessarily) what you like to do. Some nights, it might be getting three steals and four assists instead of scoring ten or fifteen points. Some nights, those points aren't going to be needed. It's just a matter of understanding that and doing the best for the team and sacrificing yourself sometimes, which for some players, is a little harder to understand."
And there you have it.
Kobe's tooth update: As most of you probably know, Kobe took a whack to the face while fouling Leandro Barbosa and was left with a loosened chopper. I was told by a member of the Media Relations staff that he's wearing, in layman's terms, a splint across his two front teeth. For how long remains to be seen and hopefully, the device won't be obtrusive. Although, let's be honest, something honkin' and ridiculous would be more fun. Say, something along the lines of the headgear BK had to wear at night as a kid. And you thought Vad Rad's bright orange shades were good for a lark.
Finally, I asked Phil if the newfound availability of guys like Joe Smith, Drew Gooden and Luther Head were of interest to the team. That would be an "Oh, yeah." Said Jackson, "We're definitely gonna talk about that. Today is kind of an unusual day for us here in the Laker organization, but we'll huddle up and talk a little bit when we have an opportunity." Hopefully, people who paid big money to hit a tee shot in Mitch Kuphcak's vicinity will forgive him if he excuses himself to take a cell phone call with the ID "Gooden agent."