Ding: Gasol ponders future, injury-filled present and Jackson's past prostate cancer
EL SEGUNDO – The last time the Lakers were down, 3-0, in a playoff series wasn't so long ago – no matter the boldly stated preference for Phil Jackson over Mike D'Antoni in the Twitter account of Dwight Howard's girlfriend and the "We want Phil!" chants at Staples Center on Friday night.
It was during that 2011 postseason that Jackson tried something different than he ever had, which he reveals in his new book "Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success," to be released to the public May 21. It's no small thing, and it might explain a little what happened to Jackson and that Lakers team that failed to win a third consecutive championship.
Jackson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 2011. After doctors assured him the cancer could be controlled by drugs temporarily, Jackson waited until after the season to undergo surgery.
Jackson decided to divulge his situation to his players when he sensed the team was lacking something in the playoffs.
"Shocking," Pau Gasol said Saturday, remembering Jackson's disclosure to the team during a video session. "But then you also could understand certain moments of his demeanor, energy and involvement because of what he was going through health-wise. It explained certain things. It was a shock. A difficult moment for the team."
Gasol said Jackson talked with team captains Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher privately before telling the whole team – but Jackson was left second-guessing the revelation in which he was left teary-eyed, writing in the book: "I'd never had one of my teams fall apart in such a strange and spooky way before."
Gasol allowed that it was different for the team to know Jackson – "such a big figure, the physical and spiritual leader of the team" – was so vulnerable.
"As much as I love Phil and I appreciate everything about him," Gasol said, "it was difficult to know."
There were other factors in Dallas sweeping the Lakers in that second round – fatigue from the previous title runs, a new defense installed at midseason, Bryant's weak right knee, what Jackson called a "serious family issue" for Gasol that he still declined to detail Saturday.
But with a lack of the usual unwavering Jackson leadership, there was no saving those Lakers, and we're seeing something similar with these Lakers on the brink of a sweep in Mike D'Antoni's first playoff series: There's no way these Lakers are overcoming all these injuries when the trust in the leadership is lacking, too.
Gasol, Bryant, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace have all publicly questioned D'Antoni's coaching this season, and the Lakers simply must – one way or another – get themselves on the same page next season.
Consider what Christine Vest, Howard's girlfriend, dared to deliver via Twitter during the Game 3 rout: "Officially can't stand D'Antoni." Although not an officially certified Howard spokesperson, when someone asked her if she could coach the team, Vest replied: "noooo lol Phil can tho."
D'Antoni has relented and run Howard's preferred post-up system late in the season, and style of offense is a big deal to Howard as he makes his final decision on free agency soon.
As far as Gasol goes, D'Antoni's late-season trust in him has been rewarded with triple-doubles left and right even as Gasol, 32, deals with lingering pain from the torn plantar fascia in his right foot and so much constant pain in both knees that he needs to research ways to regenerate tendon tissue in them this offseason. Gasol also told me he tore a ligament in his right middle finger during Game 3 Friday night and will wear a splint Sunday.
Injuries have certainly been the Lakers' season story, Gasol said, but right behind that has been "the new coach getting to know the team, the team getting to know the coach, making it work ... and it's different, just different."
Even though the Lakers' ultimate goal is to get under the luxury-tax plateau in 2014-15 to avoid the new NBA repeater tax, Gasol knows by now that the Lakers don't necessarily believe he and his $19 million salary suit them that well for 2013-14.
With Bryant, World Peace and Steve Blake injured – and Devin Ebanks a free-agent dead man walking – Gasol will the only player on the court Sunday left from Jackson's final Lakers team two years ago. From Jackson's 2009 title team, the whole roster has been turned over except for Bryant and Gasol.
And after all his oft-stated loyalty to the Lakers, Gasol knows by now it's perhaps time for another from Jackson's flock to be freed.
"I want to be in a situation where I'm utilized properly and I can maximize my talents," Gasol said. "I would love for that place to continue to be here, but it can't be like this year – or it can't be because now there are a couple injured players that we're doing that. That's something that will be discussed in the offseason."
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