QUEBEC CITY—Marc Gasol has played in more intense and important basketball games in a compressed five-month period than he has at any time in his 34-plus years on the planet, and as he sat there watching a mundane training camp workout with the Raptors here Sunday he had one thought: “I’d love to be back out there.”
But Gasol is nothing if not smart, and he realizes there are those who have decided that it is in his best interest to ease himself into the coming NBA season — and that they should be heeded.
“I think you have to trust the medical team,” the Spanish centre said after the NBA champions went through their first training camp workout at the University of Laval. “Obviously as a player, you always want to play (because of) your competitive nature, but you have to protect yourself from yourself a little bit. Let the guys who are professionals make those decisions.”
The guys who are professionals — Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, director of sports science Alex McKechnie and head athletic trainer Scott McCullough — have, not surprisingly, determined that Gasol will be kept out of full contact work for at least the start of camp and likely into the exhibition season.
He’ll be monitored through the start of the regular season as well, Nurse said. There may be different circumstances than a year ago with Kawhi Leonard — load management for someone like Leonard recovering from an injury is different than load management for a veteran who’s played a ton of high-pressure games since June — but the basic theory is the same.
“I think they’re having their discussions about it, and whenever they come up with the plan — I’m sure they have a plan — they’ll let me know,” Gasol said.
Along with the veteran centre, point guard Kyle Lowry is being held out of contact drills and scrimmages early in camp as he gets over off-season thumb surgery.
Nurse couldn’t say when either of them would be fully ready to go, but Gasol could be ready earlier. He hasn’t lost any conditioning after playing into the middle of June with the Raptors, then taking a couple of weeks off before for two-month run with the Spanish national team culminated in a World Cup championship two weeks ago.
“I mean, he has to do some stuff if he’s going to play in the exhibitions in Tokyo (against Houston on Oct. 8 and 10),” Nurse said. “He has to make sure he’s right and ready and healthy and can withstand that. So there’s a balance there a little bit, but I’m really in no hurry to see him hit the floor, especially in any of our contact stuff right now.
“But I know him. I already wandered past him one time today and he was like, ‘I wish I was out there.’”
Gasol’s probably anxious to get out on the court mostly because, historically, good things tend to happen when he’s played in the last seven months.
After being obtained from going-nowhere Memphis at the February NBA trade deadline, Gasol was credited with helping a resurgence by the Raptors offence that led to Toronto becoming the best three-point shooting team in the league, thanks to his prescient passing skills. He followed that up by playing the role of sage old veteran with the Spanish team, leading an unheralded group to its second World Cup title since 2006. With Spain he moved between playmaker and primary scorer, and his epic 33-point effort in a double-overtime semifinal win over Australia instantly became part of Spanish basketball lore.
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It was a physical and mental grind — exhilarating, but a grind nonetheless — and getting some down time now just makes sense. He may not feel tired, but his body might just be tricking him.
“If I do (feel tired), mentally I’m getting through it,” he said. “I’m not allowing it to prevent me from getting motivated and attacking this season with everything. I’m very excited, I’m working with the guys and I’m looking forward.”