Los Angeles Lakers captain Pau Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni do not see eye-to-eye these days. To be honest, these guys have not seen eye-to-eye for most of D’Antoni’s time in Los Angeles, but on Wednesday night, the Lakers’ coach may have lost his locker room to his captain.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, D’Antoni moved Gasol to the bench and caused a great deal of drama. Then, when Gasol was allowed back into the starting line-up, he was forced out onto the perimeter and found himself shooting jump shots and three-pointers. Occasionally, Gasol was even benched late in games, and the Spaniard took exception and publicly voiced his dissatisfaction.
That was last season.
In this combusted season, Gasol has been the most consistent Laker. Although Gasol has been a sure starter when healthy, this has not been an easy season for the 7-footer. He has been clear that he prefers not to play small ball, but D’Antoni is not a proponent of post play, which happens to be Gasol’s specialty.
The conflicts between player and coach have likely been well documented and probably slightly overblown, but the latest conflict is not just about issues on the court.
After a bad loss in Indiana, Gasol said the team required more structure and discipline to avoid fractioning into a team of individuals playing for themselves. Gasol went a step further and said the team lacked discipline before ironically taking a jab at the coach's tactics by wishing Wesley Johnson "good luck" on guarding Zach Randolph.
When asked about Gasol’s post-game comments related to problems of playing small ball, D’Antoni was upset.
“The thing I don’t appreciate is, I think every coach, you keep it in house,” D’Antoni said ahead of Wednesday’s game in Memphis. “It’s very easy to come over and talk about your frustrations.”
When asked about Gasol’s comments as they related to a lack of discipline, D’Antoni responded, "I have no idea what he’s talking about."
Then, Wednesday’s game was played, and the first half featured another energy-starved performance by the segmented Lakers. They trailed by 19 points at the break, and the basketball was ugly on both ends.
After only attempting three shots in the first half, the Spaniard was sitting on five points, with three rebounds and zero assists. Regardless of how the coach wanted to play, the team decided that its captain needed the ball.
In the second half, the Lakers went to Gasol at every opportunity, and it worked. Going through Gasol, the Lakers rallied and found themselves within five points with 55 seconds left in the game.
“Let’s play through our best player,” Jordan Farmar said referring to Gasol after the game. “He’s our best player by far.”
Newcomers Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks also credited Gasol as being the guy that changed the game and brought the Lakers back. They both started their post-game press conferences by praising Gasol's talent.
“He’s one of the best players in the NBA,” Farmar continued on about Gasol. “We have to use him to his strength.”
Coming away from Wednesday’s game, the players were in support of Gasol and playing through him, which meant dropping the ball into the post. The problem, however, is that D’Antoni has historically denounced post play, and playing through Gasol is in direct conflict with the coach’s style of basketball.
On Wednesday, the team appeared to have bonded together rather than split into segments of selfish players auditioning for next season. The problem was, the team fell in line behind its captain, not it's coach.
It may have been just another 48 minutes of yet another loss in a season of losing, but D’Antoni may have lost more than the game on Wednesday. He may have just lost his locker room.