Kevin Ding: Lakers' Biggest Problem is Gasol's PassivityThe Lakers probably have more journalists covering them than any team other than maybe the New York Knicks but the most insightful Lakers' beat writer/commentator is Kevin Ding. While national media members relentlessly focus on Kobe Bryant's shot selection-- a subject that endlessly fascinates them--Ding cuts straight to the heart of the matter: Pau Gasol has disappeared for the second consecutive postseason. Gasol is averaging 12.4 ppg on .442 field goal shooting during this year's playoffs after averaging 13.1 ppg on .420 field goal shooting during the 2011 playoffs. Gasol attempted 12.7 field goals per game during the 2008 playoffs, 12 field goals per game in the 2009 playoffs, 13.3 field goals per game during the 2010 playoffs, 11.2 field goals per game during the 2011 playoffs and 11.7 field goals per game so far during the 2012 playoffs--so Gasol is not receiving substantially fewer scoring opportunities now than he did during the Lakers' recent championship run (and the slight reduction has as much to do with Gasol's passivity as anything else).
The problem is that Gasol seems to be satisfied with two championship rings and thus does not push himself to play aggressively on a nightly basis. After the Lakers' 103-100 game four loss on Saturday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bryant offered this blunt assessment: "Pau's got to be more assertive. He's the guy that they're leaving. When he catches the ball, he's looking to pass. He's got to be more aggressive. He's got to shoot the ball, drive the ball to the basket. And he will be next game." Bryant, who has played through numerous injuries because of his tremendous hunger to win at least one more title, has enjoyed playing with Gasol even though he often has to kick Gasol in the butt to get the laid back Gasol to live up to his potential but Bryant is disgusted by Gasol's lack of effort the past two postseasons. Here is Ding's take not just on game four of the Thunder-Lakers series but also the state of the Lakers in general:
Bryant's postgame criticism was meant to make sure Gasol doesn't make those mistakes again as the Lakers try to rally in this series. But even as Bryant attempts to push Gasol forward the rest of this season, it's just as obvious that this season should be the last for this once-great partnership.
Bryant has tired to having to prop Gasol up time and again. Bryant did it often last season in pursuit of a third consecutive title on a bad knee and before Bynum was ready, offering the compelling Natalie Portman-inspired narrative that Gasol is too often the "white swan" instead of the "black swan." Like the movie, it didn't end well.
This season, Bryant has still believed that Gasol can come through when it matters most. Bryant's public request that the Lakers stop dangling Gasol in the trade market was him believing Gasol needed that support to persevere. When I was comparing the very night before the March trade deadline the emerging Bynum and Bryant to the regular one-two punch of Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant, it was Bryant who digressed to say: "We still have Pau."
Ding believes that the Lakers should trade Gasol for a big man who matches Bryant's fire and desire plus some young, energetic perimeter players (Ding suggests a Pau Gasol for Kevin Garnett swap but I doubt that the Celtics would go for that). Ding concludes:
Championship teams find a way to win because they aren't afraid to lose.
And in that regard, the sweet-hearted, good-intending Gasol is unfortunately the Lakers' No. 1 problem.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:42 PM