Breaking Down Why Pau Gasol Is Key to Lakers Succeeding Under Mike D’Antoni

When it comes to constructing a system that will allow the Los Angeles Lakers to succeed during what many expect to be a down season, head coach Mike D'Antoni only has so many options.

He can hope that Steve Nash will play more like the guy who won two MVPs when D'Antoni was on the sidelines for the Phoenix Suns. That, though, is a lot to ask of a 39-year-old coming off the most injury-plagued campaign of his career.

He can pray that Kobe Bryant comes back as strong as ever from a torn Achilles tendon and a trip to Germany to ease the chronic pain in his knees. That, too, seems a bit much, given Kobe's age (35), mileage (more than 54,000 minutes between the regular season and the playoffs) and the severity of his latest setback.

He can lean on the rest of the Lakers roster, which consists of misfits, castoffs and bargain-basement finds like Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Shawne Williams, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson...or not.

Or, D'Antoni can do the only thing that makes sense: Hand the keys to the team to Pau Gasol, at least in the interim.

That's essentially what D'Antoni did during the Lakers' preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets. Gasol scored 13 points on a team-high 13 shots, all but four of which came in the lane.

It wasn't too long ago that a rocky relationship between player and coach made the prospect of D'Antoni giving Gasol his due seem like anything but a guarantee.

D'Antoni didn't seem to grasp Gasol's potential value to the team. He moved Gasol further and further from the basket until the slender Spaniard found himself seated on the bench behind Earl Clark. He employed Pau as a mid-range jump-shooter and pressure release rather than as a scorer and passer in the low post.

To be sure, D'Antoni isn't entirely at fault for this. There were forces at play in Lakerland beyond his control, from his own lack of a complete...

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