- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Lakers forward Pau Gasol denied recent Internet reports and speculation in several major media outlets that there has been any conflict between Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa and Gasol's girlfriend Silvia Lopez Castro.
One report even intimated that Gasol's situation had spilled into the Lakers locker room and caused an argument between him and Bryant because Bryant's wife became involved in Gasol's relationship issues.
On Tuesday, Gasol called rumors of a rift between he and Bryant or a breakup with his girlfriend "absolutely false."
"My girlfriend and I are fine, we're happy, we're doing well. Kobe and I are fine," Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com in the parking lot outside the Lakers training facility Tuesday, after his exit interview with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Phil Jackson.
"She [Lopez Castro] was suffering because she saw me suffering. And I was suffering because I was seeing her suffering. When you add that to other stuff to what's already happening, it's tough."
Gasol said that he didn't realize the extent to which the Internet chatter had spread as an explanation for his subpar play during the Lakers disappointingly short playoff run this year because he doesn't read articles about himself or the team on a regular basis.
"I didn't know to what extent it had become an issue," Gasol said. "During the playoffs I'm totally out of the media whether it's great or not so great.
"But you do feel it because your environment feels it, and they make you feel it."
Part of the reason the story spread and became somewhat legitimized in recent days were Gasol's cryptic comments after the Lakers' 122-86 loss to Dallas in Game 4 Sunday night.
Gasol said that he needed to learn to handle "whatever goes on, on or off the floor" better and "not let it affect anything that goes on on the floor."
It was taken by some as an acknowledgement of off the court issues. Tuesday, Gasol clarified his remarks, saying that he was referring to the toll the viral story had taken on him and the team.
"Everything just seemed to get bigger and heavier," he said, referring to the wild story about Bryant's wife and his girlfriend.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm an easy target."
Gasol's teammate Derek Fisher said he too was stunned by the chorus of criticism of Gasol once he got back to Los Angeles and began to hear and read some of the stories about the Lakers disappointing sweep at the hands of the Mavericks.
"I don't read as much and listen to as much of the news and articles and blogs, so I don't think I or we as a team fully understood the things that were being said about what people thought was going on with Pau," Fisher said.
"If there's anything I regret, I regret the fact that I wasn't able to fully understand it and speak up sooner on his behalf.
"To say that I think it was ridiculously wrong to assume some of the things that were being assumed, and to place the burden of how successful we were or were not on his shoulders."
Lopez Castro attended Game 2 with Gasol's mother.
"She's been great," Gasol said. "A great help and support throughout this process. It's been rough for her, because it's been really unfair to her. I mean, forget about me."
Earlier, in an interview session with a large group of reporters, Gasol said he was deeply disappointed in his performance and the final outcome of the Lakers season. Gasol said Los Angeles' exit from the playoffs was "stunning" and that "this season has been pretty crazy and very emotional, not just for me, but as a team, and I guess it took it's toll at the very end, at the critical time."
Gasol averaged just 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the four-game series against the Mavericks, well below his season averages of 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. He shot just 42.2 percent in the Dallas series, also well below his season average of 53 percent.
"I understand that with player that I am and I consider myself to be, there are a lot of expectations. And once those expectations are not achieved, there's going to be criticism," he said.
"So it's time to get through it and stand up for yourself. I understand this is part of the deal, whether you consider it fair or not.
"The thing that makes me the angriest, I guess, is me not playing at my best and not being able to help my team accomplish its goals."
Gasol said he planned to spend the unexpected time off analyzing his own play and looking for ways to come back with "a clean cut" next season.
He also said he was "leaning toward playing" for the Spanish National team this summer as it tries to qualify for the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Gasol has not played for Spain the last two summers because he decided he needed to rest after the Lakers deep playoff runs.
"My decisions the last couple years have been because of a lack of rest and time to recover from our runs to the championships before the beginning of the season," he said. "But this obviously gives me more opportunity of participating with my national team."
Spain is scheduled to participate in the Eurobasket European Championships from Aug. 31-Sept. 18 in Lithuania, where two teams will earn Olympic bids.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Pau Gasol denied recent internet reports and speculation in several major media outlets that there has been any conflict between Kobe Bryant's wife and Gasol's girlfriend.