POSTED: Jan 31, 2013 4:46 PM ET
UPDATED: Jan 31, 2013 6:27 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ricky Rubio is standing up for his fellow Spaniard Pau Gasol, saying he doesn't think it's fair that the Los Angeles Lakers are bringing Gasol off the bench this season.
Rubio was asked about his close friend Gasol on Thursday, one day before his Minnesota Timberwolves were scheduled to host the Lakers. The two talk often during the season and seek each other out during tough stretches.
It's been a difficult season for Gasol, who was coming off a dominant performance for Spain at the London Olympics. He's missed big chunks of time with tendinitis in his knees and a concussion and hasn't seemed to find a role in Mike D'Antoni's offense. D'Antoni has been starting journeyman Earl Clark in Gasol's place, something that Gasol and Rubio don't like.
"He proved to the league he is one of the best," Rubio said. "He can pass. He can shoot. He can rebound. He can do a lot of things. I think if you use him in the right way he is a top player in this league. If they don't want him, we are more than welcome to get him."
Gasol has been the subject of trade rumors for the last few seasons now, much to the chagrin of Kobe Bryant, who has openly campaigned not just to keep one of the league's most gifted post players, but to continue featuring him on offense.
"It's been the last two years that it seems like they don't want him, but actually they need him," Rubio said. "He's a great player. He can do a lot of things and he had some issues with the knees, too. It's been a lot of years without resting for him. But he's a veteran. He knows how to play."
The Timberwolves have often been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Gasol. Wolves coach Rick Adelman has long been intrigued by the possibilities of a Gasol-Kevin Love pairing in the frontcourt, seeing similarities to the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac tandem that he employed to great success with the Sacramento Kings.
But the Wolves have been decimated by injuries this season and are 17-25, a distant 12th in the Western Conference, so making a trade for a highly paid veteran like Gasol seems like a stretch. The 32-year-old Gasol is making $19 million both this season and next, a big salary that makes it difficult to trade him.
"It's hard, when you are hearing things with the rumors that you are going to be traded, to be focused," Rubio said. "Like he says, he's a professional and he's been playing for a long time and he's going to keep doing what he doing."
Gasol is averaging a career-worst 12.8 points per game and is shooting a career-low 44.8 percent during this messy Lakers season. Not normally one to vent publicly, Gasol has complained about his role, most recently when he was benched for the entire fourth quarter of a win over the Hornets.
"Well, you know, `all for one' didn't last (very) long, did it?" D'Antoni quipped to reporters before the loss to Phoenix. "Forty-eight-hour shelf life. That's not bad. We'll take what we can get."
It's been one thing after another for D'Antoni and the Lakers, who were considered one of the favorites for the title after acquiring Dwight Howard in a trade in the offseason. Mike Brown was fired five games into the season, with D'Antoni getting the job over Phil Jackson. Howard hasn't been his usual dominant self for much of the year while recovering from a back injury last season and also has been bothered by a right shoulder injury over the last month.
Howard aggravated his shoulder injury in a loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night. The Lakers announced that he was evaluated on Thursday and is considered day-to-day.
The Lakers have shown signs of life in the last week, with consecutive victories over the Jazz, Thunder and Hornets. But they're still just 20-26 and in 10th place in the West, four games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot.