SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol returned to action on Friday after missing 15 games because of a fractured finger on his left hand, but he did so in a reserve role as the club has opted to start Dewayne Dedmon over its past 11 outings.
With Gasol now back in the fold, it’s unknown whether he’ll regain his starting job. But the 15-year veteran doesn’t appear bitter about coming off the bench.
“If you look at my probably 1,100 games [1,096] in the NBA, I think now 15 of them are coming off the bench,” Gasol said. “Most of them are coming back from injuries and stuff, a stretch with the Lakers four or five games that [Mike] D’Antoni experimented. Now here, coming back from this injury, I think we’re just trying to be the best team that we can. I think [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] is trying to do a good job of putting the best lineups and how they work together, and also maximizing everyone’s talents. With the second unit, I have more opportunities to score, to play my game. With the first unit, it’s a little more limited, my options.
“But again, we just played a couple games. We played well, and that’s what matters. We won two games, and we’ll go from here.”
The Spurs started off their annual rodeo road trip Feb. 6 with a loss at Memphis, but they competed the majority of those outings without Gasol, who was finally able to return to the lineup during the team’s victory Friday over the Los Angeles Clippers. Coming off the bench over the last two games of the trip, Gasol scored a total of 32 points to go with 18 rebounds while knocking down a perfect 5-of-5 from 3-point range.
But throughout Gasol’s absence, Dedmon has shown he’s capable of excelling in the starting lineup.
The Spurs first inserted Dedmon as a starter on Jan. 31, and he’s been there ever since as the club has compiled a 9-2 mark during that span.
Now and then, you have to give up some of yourself for the betterment of your team.
— Spurs center Pau Gasol
“He just creates a different look; the pressure with him rolling to the basket,” point guard Tony Parker said after the team’s win Sunday over the Los Angeles Lakers. “It’s been good, and it’s going to be Pop’s decision. It’s a good problem to have.”
In 52 games with 14 starts, Dedmon is averaging 5.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. Dedmon gobbled up double-digits in rebounds in seven of his last 10 starts, including a season-high 17 during a Feb. 10 victory at Detroit. In that same span, Dedmon blocked 11 shots while providing an athletic presence on defense that presents an upgrade for the Spurs over Gasol in that area.
“I definitely feel it helps your chemistry with different players,” Dedmon said. “So, it’s definitely helping. I’m just planning to do the same thing I do when I come off the bench. I definitely feel like we’re coming together pretty good. We watched a little film earlier today, and just how we were active on defense was a definite sign of improvement.”
It’s too soon to call Dedmon the starting center in San Antonio, as it appears Popovich will make decisions at that position based on the matchups presented by opponents.
Gasol hasn’t been told whether he’ll come off the bench for the remainder of the season.
“I have no idea,” Gasol said. “I’ll keep my mind open. I want to be real mature about this and really wise and understand what’s best for the team is not really what’s best for me. Obviously, if you combine both, great. But it is a little bit of an adjustment so far.
“But again, I’m just happy I was able to play well out there five weeks out with my surgery and produce. I did well these last two games. I hope I can continue to contribute as much as I have the last couple.”
Interestingly, San Antonio’s second unit seems to suit Gasol’s style better than the starting group. The Spurs’ second group plays a more wide-open style with Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Jonathon Simmons and David Lee, which gives Gasol more scoring opportunities, especially from 3-point range.
Gasol acknowledged as much Tuesday, when the club took part in its first workout at home since departing for Memphis on Feb. 6 for the start of the rodeo road trip.
“There is a difference. The personnel, the different style due to the personnel,” Gasol said. “At the end of the day, we are one group. We’ve just got to play smart and maximize everyone’s capabilities. Now and then, you have to give up some of yourself for the betterment of your team.”