Sizing up scenarios that will give Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom rest
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson walked into the press conference room lamenting the team's poor effort after its 95-92 loss Sunday to the Indiana Pacers, but that wouldn't dampen Jackson's enthusiasm for having fun at Pau Gasol's expense.
Gasol had just ended an uncharacteristic 5-of-15 effort from the field, overstepped on a screen-and-roll that resulted in a Roy Hibbert dunk with 16.7 seconds remaining, and logged his third consecutive 40-minute plus game.
So after playing for 45 minutes and 30 seconds, was Gasol tired?
Is it because of all the minutes he's been logging?
"I think so."
Is there a cure for that?
"Rest," Jackson said with a smile.
The million-dollar question followed: How do you get him the rest? There are no easy answers. Andrew Bynum says he's about three weeks away from returning to the court after rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. Theo Ratliff is expected to miss three to five more weeks after getting arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. And rookie Derrick Caracter is inexperienced.
Jackson mentioned that the Lakers have a three-day break between their home games Friday against Sacramento and Dec. 7 against Washington. But what about in their back-to-back games Tuesday at Memphis and Wednesday at Houston?
"No," Jackson said. "It's not going to be easy until we get back after this week."
There certainly aren't many answers for either Gasol or Lamar Odom, and below the jump I'll explain why.
1. Why aren't the Lakers acquiring a backup center? Jackson had expected the Lakers front office would acquire one by the end of last week, but The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Mark Heisler both reported the Lakers would've had to spend at least $70,000 a week in player salary and luxury taxes. As Heisler mused, however, "Happily for the Lakers, they made $353,600 Sunday night, just off their courtside seats — enough to afford [Jake] Voskuhl for five weeks! There are 136, all sold as season tickets at $2,600 each. Unfortunately, owner Jerry Buss has the money earmarked for other purposes, confident Bynum's return is imminent." That's partly why Jackson expressed such frustration with Bynum's timetable as he remarked, "We put all our eggs in the basket of Andrew coming back."
2. Will Jackson play Caracter more? That's something Jackson has grudgingly found as a compromise. But Caracter's inexperience, poor ball handling and raw post-up moves aren't the only reasons Jackson is so reluctant to give him an elevated role, which so far has resulted in averages of 2.5 points in 6.9 minutes per game.
"I hate to put a kid like Derrick in that situation and have him fail consistently," Jackson said. "That's not what we want to have done with rookies, you want to have them succeed, but I'm probably going to have to do that eventually. Let him be a body out there and let fall what may fall. Hopefully he'll survive."
Caracter doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, but instead hone in on things he can do instead of worrying about things he can't do. Caracter can be physical, has a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds and can force teams to spread the floor. If he thrives in focusing on that role, that will at least ease the burden temporarily.
3. Can the Lakers go small? Yes and no. Jackson has done that in certain rotations, putting Ron Artest, Matt Barnes and Luke Walton at power forward, but it's never been for an extended period of time. The reasons for this point to the fact that it's not a good long-term formula to change the Lakers from a perimeter team to a post-oriented team. The Lakers poor shooting against Indiana illustrates why, as plenty of the team's previously effective outside shooting hinges on good ball movement in the post.
This can be a reasonable approach, however, during garbage minutes, but that will only work if the Lakers build a sizable lead. At that point, it wouldn't really even matter since Jackson has typically yanked all of his starters out during significant parts of the fourth quarter when they've had double-digit advantages.
4. Can't Bynum return sooner, even if he's less than 100%? An absolute no. Some might read Jackson's initial prodding in prompting Bynum to slightly adjust his own timetable from three weeks to 2 1/2 weeks, but Jackson and Bynum have both said the training staff has encouraged the center not to expedite his recovery. There is a difference between playing hurt and playing injured, as Bynum valiantly displayed during the 2010 playoffs. But the last thing the Lakers need is to leave themselves vulnerable to Bynum reinjuring his knee again because it wasn't fully rehabbed.
In the short term, Bynum providing 12 to 15 minutes per night might be realistic and would surely relieve the burden on Gasol and Odom, but that strategy is simply a bad gamble given Bynum's injury history. As tough as the minutes have been on Gasol and Odom, they're more equipped to handle that burden than Bynum can playing injured. Gasol took off the entire summer from basketball after playing in three consecutive NBA Finals and the 2008 Olympics. Odom, meanwhile, appears on a surge ever since maintaining his rhythm this summer from the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
5.Take it easy during practice: Jackson has used practice as a way to give Kobe Bryant rest, believing his longevity is more important than any rhythm he may lose because of missed practice time. Bryant has demonstrated time and time again he doesn't really need practice time. Jackson is adopting that same approach with Gasol and Odom. He gave them the day off from Monday's practice and he plans to give them more rest after Friday's game against Sacramento. Jackson has afforded the team itself plenty of days off, including days before both games against Golden State, Denver and the day after Thanksgiving. That will likely become more and more prevalent for Gasol and Odom before Bynum returns.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol draws a double-team defense from Pacers center Roy Hibbert and guard T.J. Ford in the second quarter Sunday. Credit: Jeff Gross / Getty Images
Photo: Pacer center Roy Hibbert scores despite the challenge from Lakers forward Lamar Odom in the first half Sunday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.