Mike D’Antoni Has Removed ‘Bench’ Label, But Has Pau Gasol?

Pau Gasol and Mike D'AntoniPau Gasol has two NBA Championships and is a four-time NBA All-Star. His list of accolades, which include NBA Rookie of the Year and Second and Third Team All-NBA, could fill up this page. He’s also known as one of the best Spaniards to ever play the game of basketball. And, he is also coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Is he happy about it? Not particularly, as he told reporters on Time Warner Cable SportsNet after their win against the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday evening, but it’s not going to change the way he plays the game.

“Whatever coach decides, whether I like it or not or whether I agree with it or not, I’m still going to go out there and do my job.”

Pau Gasol’s first game as a member of the Lakers second unit was January 17th, when the Lakers lost 99-90 to the Miami Heat. Gasol, however, had just missed several games due to a concussion, and was told his coming off the bench was to help him ease into things. He didn’t expect this to become his new role, and after five games of not being in the starting line-up, Pau admitted the difficulties at Lakers practice Monday morning.

“It’s hard for anybody who considers themselves one of the top players in the world to say, ‘Okay, I’m okay with coming off the bench.'”

And, although Gasol has vowed to accept his role “with professionalism and putting the team first,” his teammates still understand that Gasol wants to be in that starting five. As a matter of fact, Kobe said that loud and clear at Lakers practice Monday morning.

“He’s not happy with that [expletive]. He’s not ever going to be happy with that…but it’s just the attitude of this team that we’re just doin’ whatever it takes to win.”

Bryant also went on to explain that Gasol being unhappy with coming off the bench is a completely normal emotion, but it doesn’t change their goal, to win. Even Steve Blake, who will be returning for Tuesday night’s game, described Gasol as “continuously a pro,” despite clearly wanting to be a starter.

“I know he still wants to be a starter and be a star out there.”

Pau Gasol has now come off the bench for five consecutive games. Many have attributed Gasol’s new role as a product of Earl Clark’s recent emergence, but as Kobe Bryant explained in an interview with ESPN Radio Monday afternoon, Gasol in the second unit has more to do with him being a true center than anything else. This might have been the same mentality behind this statement by D’Antoni at practice Monday morning.

“I don’t consider him (Pau) a bench player anyway.”

Is it possible for a player to come of the bench, but not really be a ‘bench’ player? Probably. But, the reality is that although the NBA is a conglomerate of professionals, it’s also a testosterone driven, ego breeding ground, which doesn’t make it easy to put pride aside. If anyone can do it, it’s Pau. The interesting part is that Pau Gasol admits the adjustment from being a star starter to coming off the bench is mental and can be controlled.

“It’s all mental. How much are you willing to accept a new situation? How much are you willing to put a lot of things aside that might interfere with that and if you’re able to do it and capable to do it, you can make it work and make it look great. And make it look perfect but its all your mind, its all controlled by our brains.”

It’s a lot harder said than done. And, it seems that although D’Antoni has removed the ‘bench’ label from his own vision of Pau Gasol, the All-Star 7-footer, hasn’t quite removed it from his.


VIDEO: Pau Gasol Talks About The Difficulties of Coming Off The Bench


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