I think the finishing is more important (than starting). I think the best players should finish off games. That's just the way it's got to be. When the game is on the line, you want to be on the floor. That's more important.
Gasol deserves plenty of credit for vaulting the Lakers franchise from a fringe playoff team to the championship strata when he came over during the 2007-08 season. He's incredibly skilled and a surefire Hall of Famer.
Of course, that's the complimentary setup that gives way to criticism. Gasol is handling being benched as though it came out of nowhere; as though he lacks culpability in the matter.
First, let's look at the offense.
On the season, Gasol is shooting 44.8 percent from the field, and he's averaging a disappointing 12.8 points per game. Prior to this year, his lowest per-game average in points was 17.4 (last season). He never shot worse than 48.2 percent from the floor in a season, and that looks to be in serious jeopardy this year.
The Lakers are badly in need of spacing on account of playing two centers, and Gasol has been shanking from the outside. When you look at his 2012-13 shot chart, you can see that his jumper hasn't been worth respecting for defenses.
With the exception of his elbow-extended sweet spot, Gasol can't find the range. All that might be forgiven if he were a defensive force.
The Lakers were an adequate offensive team, even when they were losing, and Gasol wasn't exactly killing them on that end with his downturn in production. But defensively, the Lakers are a mess, in part because Gasol is too slow for his position.
The reason Coach D'Antoni has given many of Gasol's minutes to the rangy Earl Clark has more to do with defense. Clark can guard a variety of players, from wings to power forwards. With his speed and athleticism, he possesses the capacity to augment L.A.'s defense as something of a Shawn Marion lite.
It's not Gasol's fault that he's a lumbering seven-footer, but the Lakers must deal with that reality. It doesn't make sense to have him guard quicker power forwards or 3's playing the 4 in a small-ball lineup.
The ideal situation for Los Angeles is to give Gasol minutes at his natural spot at center. D'Antoni is seeking to do that, and Gasol has been productive over the past three Lakers victories, especially as a passer.
The issue with the strategy tweak has been Gasol's response to the perceived demotion:
The passive-aggressive sparring between Pau Gasol and Mike D'Antoni continues here in Phoenix before the Lakers play the Suns.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) January 31, 2013
If the Lakers are winning while optimizing Gasol's potential, who sits or starts at the end shouldn't be an issue.
Of course, I do have some sympathy for the athlete's perspective here. Gasol has professional pride, and it's easier for me to say "accept your role" than it is for him to do so.
But for the Lakers to be successful with Gasol, the Spaniard needs to accept that he's a situation-specific center for as long as he plays with Dwight Howard.