Pau Gasol has struggled with injuries and setbacks so far this season, but it's clear that the Los Angeles Lakers' high-priced big man is not suffering from Earl Clark fever. Gasol came off the bench in his first game back after missing five games due to a concussion, but he did not enjoy watching from the bench as Earl Clark made the start in his place during a loss to the Heat on Thursday night.
When Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times asked him about the possibility of a bench role with the Lakers, Gasol bristled at the idea:
"I've been a starter my entire career. I think this is my first games as a Laker, coming from the bench," said Gasol. "It's not something that I would enjoy I think."
Gasol said he understood the circumstances, "coming back from the concussion" against the Heat after almost two weeks off.
Would he be open to coming off the bench moving forward?
"Probably not," answered Gasol.
To a certain extent, Gasol's response is to be expected. Thursday night marked the first time he did not start a game since 2004-05 with the Memphis Grizzlies. He has played in 822 regular season games over his 11-year NBA career, and he has started in 815 of those games. That's a 99.1 percent start rate. Pau Gasol has earned the right to think of himself as a starter, and the Lakers have treated him as such during his tenure with the team.
In case this discussion has led you to the thought that finishing a game is more important than starting, Pau is right there with you (via the LA Times):
"I would always like to finish games. I think the most determined players, important players finish games," said Gasol after the defeat. "When the games are on the line, you need to have the best players on the floor."
However, Gasol hasn't played up to his normal standards in 2012-13. He's missed one-third of the team's games this year due to injury and he hasn't played particularly well when he's managed to suit up. The 32-year-old big man from Barcelona is posting career lows in PER (14.7), shooting percentage (42.0 percent), true shooting percentage (48.3 percent) and points per game (12.2). However, the Lakers have still been 3.9 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when he is on the floor.
Gasol's name has popped up in NBA trade rumors multiple times this season, so it's interesting to think about the implications of his statement. Could the Lakers use a short stint on the bench at the start of games as a way to signal to other GMs to make strong offers -- i.e. a way accelerate trade talks with other teams while keeping Pau fresh and perhaps bump up his production? If Earl Clark strings together a few more decent outings, will the friction intensify? With the Lakers now five games below .500, it could get even uglier in L.A.