TORONTO — A single-minded focus on winning, and positive reviews from a few fellow Spaniards, helped smooth the path to Toronto for Marc Gasol.
More than a decade into his NBA career, Gasol was traded for the first time when the Raptors acquired him in a blockbuster deal at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. The player affectionately known as “Big Spain” said suiting up for team with lofty post-season aspirations, plus a Spanish connection, eased his transition.
“(It’s) the sole goal of winning. There’s no doubt, there’s no hesitation, we’re here to win, and how you contribute to that, it’s what’s important,” Gasol said. “So that makes things a lot easier because at the end of the day that’s the answer that you’re going to get.”
Raptors president Masai Ujiri made his clear this season is all about winning, and he traded away five players at the deadline including Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas. ESPN reported Monday afternoon that sharpshooter Jeremy Lin was en route to Toronto.
The 34-year-old Gasol spoke to the media on Monday morning ahead of Toronto’s game against the visiting Brooklyn Nets. He was excited about his home debut. He’d already had a small taste of Toronto’s fan support when he debuted on the road at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
“We were playing in New York and you could already feel that energy,” Gasol said. “It felt like there were thousands (of Raptors fans) up there. Imagine having all of them here. It’s exciting. You feel happy. And what you’re playing for, it’s exciting as well.”
Gasol appreciates Toronto’s Spanish connection. He played alongside both Serge Ibaka, and former Raptors guard Jose Calderon, who still owns a house in the city, for Spain. Raptors assistant Sergio Scariolo coached Spain.
“They told me all great things about the organization and the city, so I couldn’t be more excited about it,” Gasol said.
Gasol’s blue-collar work ethic made him one of the Grizzlies’ most popular players. He was just 16 when he arrived in Memphis. His brother Pau had been drafted by the Grizzlies in 2001, and the entire Gasol family made the move from Barcelona to the southern U.S. city. He attended tiny Memphis private high school Lausanne Collegiate School.
The Gasols never played together in Memphis. Marc was drafted 48th overall by the Lakers in the 2007 draft, then traded to Memphis as part of a deal that sent brother Paul to L.A.
Marc worked his way into a franchise player, earning three all-star nominations and winning the NBA’s defensive player of the year award in 2013. But the Grizzlies advanced past the first round of the post-season just three times in the past decade, and didn’t make the playoffs at all last year.
So, while being traded might have been a tough adjustment earlier in his career, Gasol sounds like he was ready to make this move.
“It’s not as emotional probably. You’re older. You’re more mature,” he said. “You put things into perspective. You understand the chance you have coming from a team that hasn’t made the playoffs last year and more likely than not this year as well, having a chance to be back (in the post-season), you know how much it means.
“You look at the team and the way the franchise is set up and everybody around it, you understand what they’re going for. It’s all great things.”
Gasol’s wife works in Memphis, and so will move to Toronto in about a month with their two kids, aged two and four.