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All Gasol, Gasol the time

November 18, 2009 |  7:30 pm
Came up with that headline all by myself.  No assistance whatsoever. That's why I get the big bucks as a professional writer, and you people wait with bated breath to see what masterpiece I craft next. Or you drop by purely because I happen to have access to the Lakers, you don't and it's worth tolerating my ham-fisted hackdom to get a little inside dirt. But it's definitely one or the other.

As the title implies, the top topic this afternoon in El Segundo was in fact Pau Gasol, who's been increasingly optimistic over the last few days that tomorrow against the Bulls could mark his seasonal debut. Well, the SS Good Vibes hasn't sprung a leak or crashed into an iceberg yet. Pau participated fully in practice, felt great, and remains hopeful that his tentative plans won't go interrupted.

Mind you, this isn't a promise, and Pau wouldn't even touch anything in the neighborhood of confirmation, fearing a jinx.  He did, however, promise that should he suit up, wind will be sucked, reminding us a few times that his conditioning isn't up to snuff. When asked if "okay" could be a fair adjective to describe his "game shape" status, Gasol labeled that description "generous."

Given Phil Jackson's history of giving key players surprisingly generous minutes upon returning from injury, one writer joked with Pau that 35 minutes (if not higher) looms tomorrow. "I don't think I could do that," smiled a sheepish Gasol, before noting that the scribe's prediction might not be a sucker's bet.

But even the thought of 48 minutes and OT change couldn't wipe the grin off Pau's face. That smile was noted by another writer, who commented that El Spaniard looked to be in muy bien spirits. You got that right, man. "My spirits are very tied to basketball," explained Gasol. "When I can't play and I'm frustrated and I'm out, I'm suffering. I'm a little grumpy and cranky and everyone notices. Right now, I'm a happy man."

For his part, Phil said heavy minutes aren't on Pau's horizons, should he prove able to suit up. "If he could go five, six, eight minutes at a stretch, that would be a pretty big journey for him," said Jackson.  Informed that some media types were predicting a yeoman's effort, Phil reassured us that ginormous minutes really aren't part of his agenda. "No, I wouldn't do that. I think that's a formula for not having a good night and setting him up for a situation that may aggravate (the hamstring)."

Phil also noted that Pau's issues haven't been so much raw and constant pain as the residual effects due to heavy activity. There is a difference.

You can add Kobe Bryant to the list of folks geeked at the idea of Pau's name getting announced by Lawrence Tanter. Asked what the team will gain most by Pau's presence, Kobe cited the seven footer's ability to command attention and his passing ability, but first and foremost, the gray matter. Brains are a big part of the game, and one of the aspects setting the Lakers apart from the crowd. "We're one of the smartest basketball teams in the league," insisted Kobe.

(Or perhaps I should say, "reminded Kobe," as the Lakers' intelligence has recently mirrored a roller coaster route. Against Phoenix and Detroit, the Lakers have been valedictorians of the court. The Houston and Denver games, however, were the equivalent of the dude whose his proclivity for sucking down Slurpees, playing video games, and sniffing rubber cement at the Sev Lev led to a barely earned, "Good Enough Diploma," as Chris Rock calls it.)

And lest we forget, Pau's not the only fella playing through discomfort as we speak. Luckily, Kobe's strained right groin seems to be trending in the right direction.  He looked like a completely different player against the Pistons than the one struggling to make shots two days earlier, and noted how the pain grew easier to manage as the game went on. Of course, it's easier to feel impervious to pain while being checked by a midget or a Swedish rookie.

On a thematically unrelated (but still seasonally relevant) note, Andrew Bynum has made crystal clear his displeasure over not being on the floor at the end of games last season, an opportunity that's come his way in Pau's absence. Given the power forward's 2009 success finishing contests while teamed up with Lamar Odom, I wondered if his return might raise that issue again for Bynum. "I just have to read that," said Jackson. "That's what my job entails. How that goes along in the course of a game. How the matchups are. What we need on the floor." When I asked if Drew's at least proved himself more capable, Phil's response was interesting:

"Sometimes it's not even Andrew. It's the fact that Lamar comes out and plays the guard role, and that suddenly turns us into a different team. Maybe it's Pau that'll come out at this time down the stretch until Pau is in really good condition to finish games."

For what it's worth, I wouldn't equate Phil noting that Pau may initially watch the closing minutes upon returning as a hint that he's been aced out of a crunch time gig. Pau's track record most certainly earns him a chance to retain a role, and Andrew hasn't been soooooo good that the decision has become a no-brainer. But he has been good, without question. On several occasions, I've noted that, for the time being, the best thing Bynum could acquit himself along these particular lines in Pau's absence is create a situation where PJ has to think about it with everyone healthy. I'm pretty sure that goal's been met.