By Ben Golliver
The Los Angeles Times reports that veteran forward/center Pau Gasol will consider making a trade request after the 2012-13 season is complete. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni recently shifted Gasol into a bench role and the Spanish forward has not played down the stretch of some games this season in favor of new center Dwight Howard.
"If this coach stays and Dwight Howard remains with the Lakers," I asked, "what about you?"
"It would be hard for me to deal with another season knowing the facts you just mentioned," said Gasol, 32 and with one year remaining on his contract.
"So do you ask for a fresh start elsewhere?"
"It's a possibility," he said, "yes."
He will not request a trade before this month's deadline, he said, although he knows there is interest from other teams for a starting center and he will be returning to the bench soon.
Gasol also said that a recent meeting with D'Antoni didn't "translate into an understanding" and that their relationship has "probably even gone a little backwards."
CBSSports.com reported Tuesday that D'Antoni brushed off Gasol's comments.
"He will probably do what we ask him to do. I'm not going to Spain to vacation with him this summer, but he's good."
This season has been one nightmare after another for Gasol. The four-time All-Star has missed time with knee tendinitis and a concussion, and he's enduring the worst season statistically of his career, averaging 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting just 45.6 percent from the floor because he's often stationed further from the hoop than he would prefer. He's made his frustrations with his playing time and D'Antoni's system known on multiple occasions this season and his comments here read like a man who has come to terms with his fate and is ready to amicably part ways when the timing is prudent.
It's difficult to begrudge Gasol his feelings. It was clear as early as late-November that team and player seemed headed in different directions on the court. He's spent the last few years on the trading block, nearly being shipped out in the cancelled Chris Paul trade, and is now being marginalized, fairly or unfairly, by D'Antoni's system. Every man has a breaking point and Gasol has earned the right to reach his after serving as a punching bag for years and doing his part to deliver two titles. The Lakers aren't winning, he hasn't been treated as if he's truly wanted, his coach doesn't use him to his full capabilities, he doesn't always play when the game is on the line and there's no real hope that those circumstances will change in the future. He's got every reason to be upset.
If his level of sacrifice and recent circumstances allow for some venting, his level of play this season requires some perspective. Moving him, even this summer, isn't a finger-snapping matter. Gasol, 32, will enter the final season of his current contract next year, a deal that will pay him $19.3 million in 2013-14. That's one of the league's largest contracts and moving it could require the Lakers to take back future salary, something they are opposed to given the presence of Kobe Bryant's monster contract, the possibility of a max contract for Dwight Howard on their books and their desire to enter July 2014 with maximum flexibility. That fact makes Gasol's timing less than ideal. The Lakers are in the middle of a desperate playoff push and the only purpose these words serve right now are to relieve some stress and to create a headache for D'Antoni. That Gasol would prefer to speak his mind rather than protect his coach says it all about the likelihood of a workable future. There's no fast forward button to the summer trading season, though, so Gasol would probably be best served by putting his head down and getting back to work. His point has been made and everyone, by now, has heard it.