Teammates defend Pau Gasol

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol is a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion, but opponents continue to choose the same word to identify the 7-foot Spaniard: soft.

The latest to make the claim is the New York Knicks' Amare Stoudemire.

Making a recent public appearance at a Foot Locker retail store, Stoudemire was asked what it was like to play against Gasol, with the emcee noting Gasol's "soft" reputation as part of the query.

"He's still soft," Stoudemire said with a grin and a shrug. "But, he's a good player, you know what I mean? But he also has help down there. He has help down there in Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, those 7-footers down there. So he's got some supporting cast."

Last month, Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins took a similar shot at the Lakers' starting power forward.

"I don't like Pau Gasol or Phil Jackson," Perkins told ESPN the Magazine. "Phil is arrogant. Pau is soft. Kobe tries to bring out his toughness, but he's still soft."

Lakers forwards Odom and Ron Artest were informed of the latest talk against Gasol as they changed in the locker room before Tuesday's game against Utah.

"Pau got moves. He don't have to be hard. That's why he got us," said a shirtless Artest as he flexed his chest and arm muscles.

"How are you soft and average 10 rebounds?" chimed in Odom.

Gasol is sixth in the league in rebounds per game this season, averaging 10.2 boards to go with his 18.9 points per game scoring average.

Artest didn't let the moment pass without throwing a zinger back at Stoudemire.

"Amare posed on the front of [a magazine] butt naked!" Artest said. "OK, is that tough?"

An unclothed Stoudemire appeared in the ESPN the Magazine's annual "Body Issue" in October.

Jackson offered a simple solution for Gasol to shed the soft label.

"Win another championship," Jackson said. "Just go out and do it again. That keeps people quiet really quick."

It's worth noting Gasol and the Lakers eliminated both Perkins (when he was on Boston) and Stoudemire (when he was on Phoenix) from the playoffs last season and he averages more rebounds than Perkins (7.9) and Stoudemire (8.3) as well.

"The perception of this tall, lanky guy and how he plays the game may appear that way, but he somehow has a knack of getting those 20 points and 10 rebounds, night in and night out," Jackson said of Gasol, who played Tuesday despite suffering a bone bruise in his right knee Sunday against the Nuggets. "He's a pretty amazing athlete and the tenacity is there. He's a tenacious guy. He wants to win and it's evident the way we've played since he came on this team."

Andrew Bynum took to his Twitter feed to support his teammate.

"The NBA is a weird place!" Bynum wrote. "How can a man that plays 0 defense call a 2 time champion soft?"

It isn't the first time Stoudemire has gone after a member of the Lakers' front line.

Last season, as a member of the Suns, Stoudemire called Odom's 19-point, 19-rebound performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals "lucky," adding, "I'm not giving him no hype."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.