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Gasol the talk of the Raptors' return and for good reason

Marc Gasol, before he performed his own personal makeover back home in Spain.  
Marc Gasol, before he performed his own personal makeover back home in Spain.  

When the Raptors finally do make it back into our homes via TV, most of us watching are going to take one look at Marc Gasol and wonder why we didn’t make better use of our pandemic time.

Since the team regrouped in Naples, Fla., Gasol has been the most talked-about Raptor and the guy getting the most double-takes.

“I was shocked seeing him,” guard 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, is 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.”

Gasol, always a team player, is reluctant to talk about himself, preferring to discuss the group as a whole, so it wasn’t that surprising when he played down his own changes.
He admits he has lost weight, but stops short of saying exactly how much. He smiles awkwardly when the muscle he has added is mentioned.

“I don’t think that’s really relevant,” he said. “What’s important, like I said, what we’ll all be measured by, is winning games and getting another ring.”

Gasol, who headed back to Spain when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NBA in March, had played just one game of the previous 16 for the Raptors because of a hamstring issue and had missed another dozen earlier with the same problem.

That, more than anything, pushed him to make the best use of his pandemic time and, for Gasol, that meant transforming his body.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The reasons for those issues are apparent to everyone with an even remote interest in the game. Immediately following the Raptors’ championship run, Gasol was back in Spain getting ready for his home country’s run at a world title, which basically meant he had almost zero down time this past off-season.

“You go from a late run in June and putting everything on the line for the team,” he said. “In mid-July, we started with the national team and tried to complete something special with them, too, which we obviously did. Those are two very taxing efforts, right? 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 gonna go broke.”

It’s fair to say Gasol spent a good portion of the NBA shutdown re-investing in himself.

“I just thought about maximizing the situation,” the 35-year-old Gasol said. “Not only for professional reasons, but for personal reasons, too — spending time with your family, understanding what’s important and what’s not.

“I feel very fortunate to be healthy, first and foremost. You try to keep everyone around you healthy, as well, and be responsible for that. You have to be responsible and safe going out there, not only for you and your loved ones but also for the people that you don’t know.”

Not having played a game yet, no one can say for sure how the remade Gasol will translate in the NBA. With his high basketball IQ and instincts for the game, he long ago established himself as one of the best big men in the game. But now he returns with all that same basketball knowledge and a body shape and size more in line with maximizing his abilities. What will that look like?

“It’s going to be huge,” McCaw said. “He’s just taking care of his body, maintaining, doing the things he needs to do to stay in shape and the changes he’s made are drastic.

“Not saying that he’s old, but the age that he is and how he still wants to continue to get batter and make improvements is huge. He’s healthy, he’s in great shape, he looks amazing. It just adds another dynamic to our team and I’m exited to get out there and play with him.”

Head coach Nick Nurse has always liked the idea of putting the ball in Gasol’s hands in the Raptors’ half-court offence and letting him dictate the manner in which the team will score.

Based on Gasol’s new chiselled look, we suspect we’ll all be seeing even more of that.

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