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Jamison, Meeks and Gasol: Who Will Prevail?

(I wrote this post after the Lakers beat the Nuggets)

Early on in the pre-season one of the biggest concerns about the Los Angeles Lakers was their bench ... or lack thereof. While they had a scary starting team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, their bench was nothing to brag about.

That was under Mike Brown.

Under Mike D'Antoni, there's talk that if he doesn't start Antwan Jamison and instead has him be the spark off the bench, Jamison could make another bid for another Sixth Man of the Year award.

To demonstrate just how good of a night it was against the Denver Nuggets, Jodie Meeks, who had found himself way out of the rotation under Coach Brown, scored 21 off a 7-8 performance from the 3-point line. Jamison scored a game-high 33 points.

According to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, D'Antoni told Jamison, "Don't think. Take shots."

If there's one thing that Coach D'Antoni has always been good at it's making his players better. If you ask any player who has worked with him, they'd say he instills confidence in your shot and encourages you to keep shooting. "Don't think. Take shots."

D'Antoni needs a specific type of player to succeed but when he's got it his teams can go far. Steve Nash is the perfect type of player for D'Antoni. After him, though, Jamison and Meeks are the best the Lakers have. Jamison is the stretch four needed to spread the floor for pick and roll and Meeks is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league.

That presents an interesting situation for Pau Gasol.

Gasol is a fantastic power forward. But spreading the floor isn't his role-and he's said so himself. While Gasol can't take jump shots, he feels more comfortable playing with his back to the hoop. That works great in slower, half-court offenses, but in D'Antoni's up-tempo "7 seconds or less" offense, you need a strong floor spreader.

On top of that, there's no denying that Gasol's production on the offensive end has decreased quite a bit. He is currently shooting 42.3 percent from the field. That's six points worse than the 48.2 percent he shot in 2003-04, which was his previous worst mark.

"I don't want to lose Pau, but at the same time we do have to spread the floor," D'Antoni said after the Lakers beat the Nuggets.

It's the second half of that quote that has to have some people wondering: When will the Lakers get rid of Gasol in exchange for either a PF who can stretch the floor or more shooters?

Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York spoke with a couple of agents over the past few days. According to them, Zwerling says, Pau Gasol in some sort of a package deal to Atlanta for Josh Smith makes a lot of sense for the Lakers.

There had been speculation that the Knicks might have been in the running to trade Amar'e Stoudemire for Gasol, ut that has died down significantly. As one of my sources said, "There's no way the Lakers would make that trade unless they got a nice additional piece."

But perhaps there is no need for a trade after all. John Schuhmann from Hang Time on NBA.com crunched some numbers and found that when Gasol and Howard were not playing together, both played better. During Friday's game the two only played 12 minutes together. More importantly, because Jamison was playing so well, D'Antoni could slide Gasol over to the 5, thus getting that stretch-4 he needs for his offense to run.

The conclusion that Schuhmann comes to is that "if he [Jamison] can consistently make shots, D'Antoni can continue to stagger Gasol's and Howard's minutes, and the Lakers can really spread the floor."

"I'll ride him," D'Antoni said of Jamison. "I'll probably have to kill him. But he can do it. He said he can do it, so we'll see."

If Jamison can do it, the Lakers will have found a way to keep Gasol in the game giving productive minutes. If not, well, we know the answer to that one.

-Jacob Donnelly, NYC, Curave.com.

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