In one corner of the Lakers' practice gym stood Pau Gasol, his constant smile pulled tight.
"The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness," he said. "When I'm not getting the ball where I want to, where I'm most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity."
About 30 feet away stood Mike D'Antoni, his constant smile disappearing.
"I can't lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up," he said.
The short distance between the Lakers' struggling big man and their headstrong coach Thursday felt like miles, a giant chasm filled with disillusionment, disappointment and boos.
Once the most embraced Laker, Gasol has become the most scorned. His reluctant offense and dissolvable defense have elicited a dark rumble from Staples Center fans every time he goes near the ball. He is shooting a career-low 42%, five opposing big men have already run over him to equal or top their career best in points, and everyone has been wondering when Pau Gasol is going to fight back.
On Thursday, in his own kindly way, he finally did.
In an interview before the team left to board a plane for Friday night's game in Oklahoma City, Gasol made clear what he usually only intimates. He said he believes his poor play is a result of his poor usage in D'Antoni's system. He said he has come to the conclusion that he just doesn't fit.
"This year hasn't been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that's not going to change any time soon," he said.
So why hasn't it been ideal?
"What do you think?" he said. "I'm not going to say anything, but it's easy to see. You see a guy with a certain skill set, where does it fit better, where it doesn't."
When asked about D'Antoni's sometimes pointed criticism of his toughness, Gasol shrugged.
"I don't pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don't give much credit to things like that," he said.
When asked if D'Antoni has ever discussed this criticism with him directly, for the first time in the interview, Gasol sounded irked.
"Nope, zero. Nope, zero," he said. "Like I said, it's not ideal, but it is what it is."
A few minutes later, in another part of the emptying gym, D'Antoni offered his own shrug and acknowledged he has never discussed his criticisms directly with Gasol.
"We know how he has to be," D'Antoni said. "We talk, but he has to produce. He knows how to play, he knows what he has to do."
That last answer contains a question facing the Lakers as this season's trading deadline approaches. In this environment, can the once-great Gasol ever be both physically and mentally able to do what he has to do?
For now, there seems to be no indication that the Lakers would trade him even though he's in the last year of his contract. For now they think that, after he plays himself into shape after a summer spent resting his surgically repaired knees, he will still be the sort of asset they will want to sign next summer at a reduced price.
But what if he isn't? What if he'll never be? What if, at age 33, with the wear of 13 seasons upon him, this is the best Pau Gasol is ever going to be as a Laker?
He's been beaten up here mentally, having been both traded and benched in the last three seasons. He's also not aging ideally, with Kobe Bryant acknowledging Thursday that he counseled Gasol to consider adding to his game by losing some pounds.
"I told him I thought the thing that really helped me out, I dropped some weight," Bryant said. "I told him he should probably measure it himself, see if that's something he needs to do himself. As we get older, our metabolism slows, we quietly become a little heavy."
To the human condition, add the D'Antoni condition, in which Gasol is being asked to play a system that really doesn't
suit him. It is perhaps an equation for the sort of tentativeness,
even listlessness, that Gasol has shown even in the biggest of moments.
"Pau is a great guy, a great player, but the focus has gone away from him a little bit in
the last few years," D'Antoni said. "After a while it gets frustrating, you lose your confidence, you
get a little nicked up here and there, you don't battle through it, it's tough."
D'Antoni said he is confident Gasol will find himself. Gasol doesn't seem so sure. He said he would never ask to leave a place that has mostly loved him during seven seasons and two championships, but, seriously, once they trade you once, can you ever feel settled again?
"I love being here, I love my teammates, I love the city ... but [a trade] is a possibility," Gasol said.
It was hard to tell whether he said that with excitement, or dread, or both. It is difficult to tell anything about Pau Gasol these days, other than a good man is going through a tough time that even he doesn't seem to fully understand.
"What's really going on?" he asked. "It's a crazy world out there."
A crazy world, and he's right in the middle of it.
Twitter: @billplaschkeCopyright © 2015, RedEye