The Los Angeles Lakers held practice Monday, and the familiar face of Pau Gasol was visible taking part in non-contact drills along with his teammates.
Asked about Gasol’s status for Tuesday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said the Spaniard was probable after recovering from vertigo. If Gasol returns, he expects to waltz back into the starting lineup, and Chris Kaman’s 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists against the Phoenix Suns may, once again, take the last seat of the Lakers’ bench.
“I was going to ask you guys,” D’Antoni responded when asked how he would fit both big men into his team. “I’m open to suggestions.”
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This season, Kaman played well as a substitute when Gasol missed games due to injury or illness. However, the Lakers’ dilemma involving Kaman and Gasol when both are healthy remains as present as ever.
Considering his role as leader of the team and the two championships he brought to the organization, Gasol takes the starting spot at center. Also, D’Antoni attempted to sit Gasol last season, and those attempts blew up in his face, so when healthy, Gasol starts.
According to the coach, Kaman was not willing to play spot minutes. Further, developing young players like second-year center Robert Sacre and rookie power forward Ryan Kelly took priority over playing an established veteran like Kaman as the playoffs were ruled out.
How about playing Kaman as the anchor on the second unit? Well, then, Jordan Hill does not get minutes, and fans have screamed and shouted about Hill not playing enough louder than they have about Kaman not playing at all.
D’Antoni’s argument was valid: “If Jordan Hill isn’t playing, we’ll have the same discussion: ‘Why isn’t Jordan Hill playing?’”
So, if Gasol comes back Tuesday against the Blazers, there is a strong possibility that Kaman will find himself as the bearded fellow at the end of the bench rather than the big foot lookalike on the court.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution, and D’Antoni attempted to explain the math at Monday’s practice. He explained there were five guys - Kaman, Gasol, Sacre, Kelly and Hill - available to play two positions, power forward and center. With 48 minutes in a game and two positions open, that meant five guys had to share 96 minutes.
Thirty or more of those minutes would go to an established veteran like Gasol. Hill averages about 20 minutes per game on the season, so that would leave 46 minutes to be split between Kaman, Kelly and Sacre. With Sacre averaging about 20 minutes per game in his last 10 appearances and Kelly averaging 28 minutes per game in his last 10 games, the math did not add up, and Kaman’s number was the one least likely to be called.
At this point, giving Kelly and Sacre the opportunity to play takes priority over Kaman. Initially, the coach may work magic to get Kaman onto the floor as Gasol regains his health. However, if Gasol returns to playing 30 minutes per game, there is no time available for Kaman in the final couple weeks of the season.
“You can look at it a thousand ways,” D’Antoni said. “It’s just the way the team is made up.”
As a reminder, Kaman finished the last game with 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. Yea, no one has time for that.