Prior to L.A.’s game against Miami last Thursday, we had a few minutes to chat with Pau Gasol in a discussion that was initially about the improved play of Andrew Bynum, centered upon his willingness to focus on defense and rebounding.
"I think it’s a very mature thing for Andrew to understand,” said Gasol. "Just like when I got to this team, you have to understand, where can you contribute the most, what can you do to be the biggest contributor. What do we need out of a player the most?”
That got us to thinking. What does Gasol consider to be the areas in which he can most contribute? Our ensuing discussion involved his mindset in general with the team, his ever-developing relationship with Kobe Bryant (Black Swan, Black Mamba?) and more. Below is a transcription of the conversation:
MT: Versatility and efficiency are two things upon which I know you pride yourself. Do you have to re-evaluate which elements of your game to use in specific contests on a game-by-game basis, or is there one area in particular that you always focus upon?
Gasol: Well, yes, I evaluate every game how things are going … but you do have to keep certain things consistent. I focus on being a facilitator and making plays, and then defending and rebounding. Those are the things that I’ve tried to improve since I got to Los Angeles because those are the things that really put you at a different level as a player and as a team.
MT: To use the Kobe Bryant analogy that you’ve heard so many times now, how do you weigh the Black Swan versus the White Swan? It seems that you are very much aware of when and why to pick your spots?
Gasol: I know what to do, and Kobe and I (definitely understand each other). He’s not trying to take any credit for my level of play. I do understand, and I know that at certain times I have to be more aggressive, more productive and just initiate more instead of always trying to get other guys involved or make plays for other guys when I’m the one that has an advantage. But I always like to be the balance guy, a guy that brings balance, because if we have too many guys that are trying to be aggressive and do too much on their own, then it disrupts our system, our offense, so I always try to give our team a little balance. Just not too much that you’re not aggressive enough, and you’re too unselfish because sometimes you have to be determined and produce.
MT: With Bryant being who he is, how aggressive can you be without doing too much of what he does for the team? Do you actually have to pick your spots at being the Black Swan when the Black Mamba is on the other side of the floor?
Gasol: You just have to understand the needs of the team and what is asked of, demanded of you. What does the team need from you? That’s what I try to always keep in mind. It’s not so much about me having the chance to attack more or shoot more, it’s just about winning. I try to do what it takes so our team is more successful. If I can get Andrew (Bynum) a few looks inside or (Derek) Fish(er) a few looks in the corner when I’m a pretty good top-of-the-key jump shooter than I will, instead of taking that shot, because I feel like it’s important that those guys get a few more looks so that they’re involved in the offense. That’s going to get their energy level up defensively … you have to get everyone connected, and that’s something that I try to do in this system with this team more so than if I were on another team with different needs.
MT: How would you describe how your relationship has grown, or just is, with Phil Jackson?
Gasol: We understand each other. To me, he has great trust in me and I value it. He expects a lot out of me, and I value that too. I have a good understanding of what we’re doing and our relationship and I like it, I appreciate it..
Editor’s Note: Gasol had to run at that point, as the interview as the media session came before practice and Jackson blew the whistle as Gasol was speaking about him. We had a chance to ask one other follow-up question the next day, in advance of L.A.’s win at Dallas, to see if Gasol cared about being the best European player.
MT: In January, La Gazzetta dello Sport named you the European Player of the Year for the third straight year. The previous five awards went to Dirk Nowitzki. Do you put any particular focus on trying to be better than him individually, or any special pride in the trophy?
Gasol: Yeah, no matter what you want to be recognized as one of the best, if possible the best. To be named the best of something – your country, your continent, the world – that’s something you strive for. It’s also one of the reasons why you work hard and try to better yourself. Against Dirk? I mean, when I match up against other top European players or top players, I just try to outwork them or outplay them that particular night. But he’s a different player than I am so it’s not (just about) a 1-on-1 matchup.