On Tuesday, when the Los Angeles Lakers play the Miami Heat, Andre Drummond is expected to be available, and while Marc Gasol has made a case to keep his spot in the starting lineup with his play over the last three games, Frank Vogel is committed to Drummond.
“We’re gonna start Andre,” Vogel said after the Lakers’ win against the Raptors on Tuesday. “That’s what we signed him here for. I mean, first of all, we need to get him a ton of minutes to get him acclimated in our system, with only x amount of games before the playoffs, and he’ll be our starter.
“But like I said, and we’ve said this the whole time through: We need all three of those guys (Drummond, Gasol and Montrezl Harrell), and all three of them are really good players, and they’re going to help us win a championship. But no, (Gasol’s play) doesn’t change that (the starting lineup).”
Prior to Drummond’s arrival, Gasol hadn’t come off of the bench in any of his games with the Lakers. In fact, Gasol has only come off of the bench 16 times in his 12-year career.
It’s not unusual for a player Gasol’s age, 36, to transition into a bench role, but that’s not the role he signed up for when he joined the Lakers in free agency this summer. It’s not the one he’s earned, either.
Before LeBron James and Anthony Davis went down with their respective injuries, the five-man lineup of Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Gasol had a net rating of +13.3 in the 280 minutes they played together. Among five-man lineups that have played at least 250 minutes together, that lineup ranks fifth in the NBA in defensive rating, and Gasol owns the second-highest defensive point differential in that lineup, per Cleaning the Glass.
In layman’s terms, Gasol didn’t do anything to lose his starting job. Drummond also didn’t do anything to earn the starting job, at least not with the Lakers; it sort of just happened, to Gasol’s chagrin. But as frustrated as Gasol might have been and could continue to be, he’s not planning on asking for his release from the team ahead of Friday’s buyout layoff eligibility deadline.
“I’m fully committed to the team,” Gasol said on Tuesday. “I’ll stay ready when my number is called. I understand that we have to get Andre acclimated to what we’re trying to do. We have to get back our two main guys, LeBron and AD, and get that groove going and get some chemistry going with the first unit for them. I’ll be ready, no matter what happens, whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, at whatever position.
“There are some nights I may not play, but I’ll stay ready no matter what. I made that commitment. It’s been a process for me to reassess this situation a little bit, but like I said, I’m fully committed to this team. So whatever is thrown at me, I’ll be ready.”
The word “reassess” suggests that leaving the team is something that Gasol considered as a result of Drummond’s arrival, and that hunch is supported by a tweet that Kyle Kuzma sent out on Tuesday.
Fortunately, for the Lakers, Gasol has accepted his new role and he’s looking forward to helping the team in any way he can, something he’s prided himself on doing throughout his career.
“When you’ve played basketball for quite some time, you always want to help the team,” Gasol said. “In my mind, I always think ‘what can I do for the next guy? How can I help this guy have a better game?’ How can I help this shooter either, screening, or passing the ball at the right spot where they want it? How can I communicate defensively so their job is easier?’
“I’ve never looked at my game as ‘what can I do for me?’ And sometimes you have to be a little more assertive and look for your game because that also helps the team. So you can be too unselfish, and I’ve had that problem before. It’s not a bad problem to have, but it can be an issue. So when I get the ball now, it’s ‘look for your shot, create something, and then if you don’t have it, move it on.’”
Gasol’s handling of the situation hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. After Tuesday’s game, Alex Caruso praised Gasol for his professionalism and willingness to sacrifice for his teammates.
“He’s a pro, man,” Caruso said. “He’s been in this league for a number of years. He’s a selfless guy, great teammate. Everyone on the team is on the team for that reason. We know they’re going to be great teammates, we know that the end goal is to win championship, and there are different looks for our team that are better.”
Gasol’s attitude could change as his role diminishes, but for now, he’s doing and saying all of the right things. For the Lakers’ sake, let’s hope things stay that way.