Gasol and Howard Must Match Bryant's AggressivenessKevin Ding, the best and most insightful writer on the L.A. Lakers' beat, explains a major reason why the Lakers have been a mediocre team this season: Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the team's twin towers, have not been aggressive enough at either end of the court. Ding notes that Howard's well documented free throw struggles largely stem from Howard's preoccupation with being booed, resulting in him "shrinking under that pressure of everyone's expectations." After the Lakers' 113-103 home loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Kobe Bryant dismissed any excuses about Gasol's health and/or his role in the offense by emphatically stating that Gasol must "put your big-boy pants on" and have a bigger impact on the game. Throughout his career, Bryant has consistently challenged his teammates to be more aggressive and play with more fire--that was the real source of tension between him and the sometimes lackadaisical Shaquille O'Neal, not the soap opera nonsense propagated by most media members. O'Neal never trained or practiced as hard as Bryant but Phil Jackson's coaching and Bryant's drive brought out the best in O'Neal when the Lakers won three championships in four Finals appearances during the early 2000s. Ding questions whether Howard or Gasol can ever fully develop the fearless attitude that has propelled Bryant to so much success:
Well, Gasol is another player whose basic nature is to worry about what everyone thinks of him. O'Neal too was deeply insecure, though he tried to mask it with tenacity and force.
First O'Neal and then Gasol came to respect the quality a certain teammate who just does not give a bleep about those who doubt him when he trusts himself--a mindset that makes it much easier to excel. Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn referred to Bryant as "an extreme winner" before the game Sunday night--and then proceeded to carry out a game plan to take the ball out of Bryant's hands late and gamble on hacking Howard.
But did O'Neal and Gasol ever really learn to be like Bryant?
Could Gasol, splendid and skilled as he was in those title years with Bryant, have been the lead dog on a title team during that time? Hardly. And that brings us back to the question about Howard--with his Shaq-like physical superiority...and mental insecurity.
This is supposed to be the season of shift from Kobe's team to Dwight's team.
In reality, it's far more about Dwight shifting to be more like Kobe.
Ding made similar observations regarding Gasol near the end of last season and Ding even suggested that the Lakers should trade Gasol in exchange for younger, hungrier and more athletic players.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:40 PM