The on-again, off-again nature of the injuries was frustrating. The inconsistent production, the watching from the sidelines too much of the time, the feeling of helplessness — all frustrating.
And given a chance to fix that feeling, to really get himself right and be ready for the sole sporting task that drives him, Marc Gasol took it.
It was under unorthodox and troubling circumstances — a global pandemic that shuttered societies around the world — but the veteran Raptors centre made the most of a brutal situation. He changed his body, changed the way he looks, and is ready to resume the suspended NBA season with a new vigour and a new purpose.
“It was a frustrating season for me personally because I could never get a rhythm and help the team the way that I should be helping the team,” Gasol said Wednesday in his first chat with Toronto reporters since early March. “As soon as … we got informed the facility was closing down, I got together with my team on a phone call and got going on a plan to resolve these ongoing issues.”
It might end up being the call that saves the Raptors season.
Noticeably thinner — he won’t say how many kilograms he might have shed — and more muscular (and with a different hairdo, to boot), Gasol arrived at the NBA’s Orlando restart campus ready to play at his usual high level again. The hamstring issues that hobbled him all season are gone, his head is clearer, his body better.
You could say he’s the young Gasol except that the young Gasol was always a bit puffy. He’s the new Gasol.
“I was shocked seeing him,” Toronto teammate Patrick McCaw said. “It was like, ‘sheesh,’ I couldn’t really recognize him because he had a new haircut.
“I think he thinks he’s my age again now but he looks great, moving well, moving fast, handling the ball, just the change that he made is super … it’s good and I’m excited to see him play, it’s gonna be fun.”
Gasol’s professionalism has never been questioned and his commitment to team goals is unwavering. But this change is so stark it has elevated his dedication in teammates’ eyes.
“Not saying that he’s old but the age that he is (35) and how he still wants to continue to get better and make improvements is huge,” McCaw said. “It’s going to be huge for us, he’s healthy, he’s in great shape, he looks amazing. It just adds another dynamic to our team and I’m excited to get out there and play with him.”
It’s not hard to figure out why the season went a bit awry for the Spaniard. Gasol had played a heavy role in Toronto’s NBA championship run that ended last June, and he only had a couple of weeks off before joining his national team for an extended run to the World Cup gold medal in September. It’s some heavy lifting.
“Those are two very taxing efforts, right?” Gasol said. “At the end of the day, you have to put in the time, you have to put in the work if you’re going to use that much energy.
“If you only take money out of the bank and never put money in the bank, you’re going to go broke.”
With his body better and his mind at ease — his family and loved ones came through the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged their homeland unscathed — all that’s left now is for Gasol to get used to being back on the court. Because of the hamstring injury that sidelined him twice in the season, he has only played one NBA game since Jan. 29. He and his teammates are working on getting their feel back.
“Everything in the NBA, in professional sports, has a lot to do with rhythm and timing, so getting everybody on the same speed of things and communicating and being proactive in our approach, that’s all that really matters,” he said. “And having a solution-based mindset. That’s our one of our strengths and we are very competitive, all of us. We compete amongst each other every single day and try to go at each other’s neck a little bit. I think that’s always positive. I think that is one of the things we missed the most during confinement — the competition.”
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Gasol had no reservations about returning for what’s left of this season because he has full faith in the NBA’s testing protocols and medical plans at Disney and no concerns about his future. At 35, about to finish his 12th NBA season and staring free agency in the face whenever this season ends, he’s thinking solely about now. Not later.
“I think we’re all here for the same goal and that’s to try to win a ring,” he said. “Anything outside of that is just not relevant at this moment and it can’t help you and it’s not important. There’s nothing you can do about anything beyond that point. Once we all committed to playing, we’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win.”