The honeymoon period is over for the Los Angeles Lakers and their new coach Mike D'Antoni.
Sitting 7-7 (3-2 under D'Antoni), the Lakers may once again be searching for an identity. They opened the D'Antoni era with home wins over the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets, then suffered a 16-point loss in Sacramento to the lowly Sacramento Kings.
While this team clearly misses point guard Steve Nash (who's fractured fibula rehab still lacks a return table, according to ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin), they may be in need of a bigger shake-up than just his return.
For starters, their bench has managed just 22.3 points per game (the second-fewest points of any NBA second team, according to hoopsstats.com). Antawn Jamison (5.7 points per game) and Jodie Meeks (4.8) have struggled to find any consistent offense in the early goings. Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill aren't offensive players, and Chris Duhon and Darius Morris may well be relegated to the end of the bench when Nash and Steve Blake get healthy.
Pau Gasol has also struggled through the first 14 games. His 13.4 points per game are four points fewer than he's ever averaged in a season. His 43.4 field-goal percentage (also a career low) has him on pace for just his second sub-50 percent shooting performance in 12 NBA seasons.
Perhaps moving Gasol to the second unit would both kick start his production and give their bench mob the bona fide scorer that they thought they had in Jamison and Meeks.
During his six-plus seasons in Memphis to start his career, Gasol was the focal point of his team's offense. He never averaged fewer than 17.6 points per game as a member of the Grizzlies. These plentiful touches may also have played a factor in posting career bests in assists (4.6) and blocks (2.1) during his tenure.
With L.A., though, he's fallen to the third or even fourth option on offense. His field-goal percentage has dipped in each of his five seasons with the Lakers, and his scoring has dropped over the past two.
On the second unit, he'd move back in to that first-option role. And he's a good enough, willing passer that he could kick start the stalling offenses of Jamison and Meeks.
But moving Gasol to the second unit isn't as simple as it sounds.
He's started 804 of his 810 career games. He has four All-Star appearances and two NBA championships under his belt. In other words, it would present the toughest of sales to convince the accomplished 32-year-old that he'd be better off starting the game on the sidelines.
Not to mention the fact that his confidence has been notably shaken over the better part of the past two seasons. He's hesitant to take shots or penetrate lanes available to him. He doesn't appear to have grasped his role on the roster or his place in the franchise. He knows (along with the rest of the basketball world) that his team was ready to sever ties in that David Stern-nixed Chris Paul trade prior to the 2011-12 season.
The Lakers can't simply move him to the inactive list. He's too talented to keep off the floor. And they'll have a hard time convincing teams that he's worth the two years, $38 million remaining on his contract given that decreasing production.
The best thing for the Lakers to do is find a way to reestablish the confidence that allowed him to average 18.7 points per game during his first three-plus seasons in L.A. They need to publicly cement his future with the organization. They need to give him the chance to play alongside Nash (who went down during the team's second regular-season game).
What they don't need is Gasol questioning his future after a demotion. That attempted kick start would have backfire written all over it.
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