His athletic limitations? Whenever they came up Wednesday during Gasol’s introduction to the L.A. media, the Spanish big man would let a small grin slip. His play in the NBA’s restart? He owned to his massive shortcomings.
His departure from Toronto? He acknowledged that it was fueled by a chase to repeat as NBA champions and a need to take on a smaller role in order to once again end the season with a trophy in his grasp.
“I thought my run in Toronto could not get better, and we’d always be chasing the ring. And I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to be the player that they needed to me be there in order to win it,” Gasol admitted. “So I thought that the right thing to do for me was to join the Lakers and contribute to what they got going on.”
Gasol, who will turn 36 on Jan. 29 during his 13th season, said he thinks he can give the Lakers a high-IQ mind that can move quicker than his feet because of his instincts.
“I try to get places before I jump in the air because my time that I'm going to stay in the air is not very long,” Gasol said. “But I try to use my instincts and my knowledge of the game, the way I study it, to get there before the offense gets there. I use a lot of communication as a center. You're behind them. I think communication builds trust and it solves problems.
“I know we're going to have great communication. We're all going to be on the same page because at the end of the day, you need defense to win games.”
His defensive impact in Toronto cannot be understated.
Gasol, who is 6-foot-11 and 255 pounds, was on the court for all four of the Raptors’ best defensive lineups that played at least 50 minutes together, quarterbacking things while Toronto put together the second-best defense in the NBA last season.
The Lakers signed Gasol to a two-year deal after trading JaVale McGee, who fit well with James because of his threat above the rim. The heavy-footed Gasol knows that’s not him.
“There are some things I don't have. I don't have the above-the-rim lob threat all the time,” Gasol said. “But I can do a lot of other stuff to help a team win and be better and help my teammates be better as well.”
He’ll do it, like he said, on the defensive end with his smarts and his experience — few bigs in the league are as highly regarded on those fronts as Gasol. He’ll do it on the offensive end with skill and decision-making, the right pass ready to be fired from his fingertips.
For Gasol, it’ll mean playing with James for the first time, giving the Lakers two of the NBA’s best passers.
“I’m a first pass kinda guy. But somebody — he’s gonna score too at his will whenever he decides to score, he’s gonna be able to score. So you’re gonna try to create space, create angles for him, keep your guy occupied as much as possible. But it’s gonna be a team thing more than anything I believe,” Gasol said. “… We’re gonna have to see that once we put it together on the practice floor, see obviously it’s different when you picture it from the outside than when you’re on the inside.”
Now Gasol is on the inside for the Lakers, the team that drafted him and later dealt him for his brother, Pau, to help the club form a lineup that would win back-to-back titles.
“I think there's a bunch of cool backstories for me joining the Lakers,” Gasol said.
You don’t have to tell Gasol of all of them. He knows exactly who he is.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.