Marc Gasol is here to help the Raptors any way he can

Marc Gasol is here to help the Raptors any way he can
NEW YORK—There is a fire that burns within Marc Gasol that is undeniable, a fire known all too well by Raptors assistant coach Sergio Scariolo.

Marc Gasol made his Raptors debut in New York on Saturday night.  (Nathaniel S. Butler / GETTY IMAGES)

“He’s a very deep guy,” Scariolo said Saturday. “Very smart, he’s an emotional guy, he’s driven. He learned to (cut back) his temper. He’s mature, he’s a grown man, has a family but still he is an emotionally driven man, always moving from his heart.”

Gasol, who made his Raptors debut here Saturday night, is bringing that drive and intensity — and his reputation as a great teammate — to only the third team for which he has played seriously. There was the Spanish team, there were 11 years with the Memphis Grizzlies, and now the Raptors.

He knows he will eventually become a leader in this group — it’s in Gasol’s DNA — but it’s not going to happen in days.

“The last 11 years have been those two teams,” he said. “(I will) just help guys and help the group be as good as we can be come April and May and June. That’s my main job ... just help everyone.”

Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he will experiment a lot with Gasol, who for now will come off the bench behind Serge Ibaka. Nurse sees Gasol as the gifted passing big man that will unlock all kinds of offensive possibilities for the Raptors, plus a defensive anchor and “captain.”

Gasol seems quite content to experiment with his new team and coach. “I’m not going to rush anything. As a player you just want to help a team accomplish their goals. That’s what this is about.”

It has been what Gasol is all about.

“He probably brings to this team something which they never had,a type of player who never was in this team,” Scariolo said. “Basically he is a great passer, someone who sees the next play a split second before most of the opponents, most of the teammates as well, most of the coaches.”

Scariolo remembers a long-ago version of Gasol, a far different physical specimen than the solidly constructed seven-foot-one veteran. Scariolo said he thinks Gasol is at his peak at 34.

“Because this guy started as chubby, even fat, when he was a kid,” the Raptors assistant said. “Then he grew as a professional and he developed great skills. They were there, but he didn’t really know how to use them and he’s been kind of a late bloomer. Not like (his brother) Pau. Pau at 20 was already one of the top players in Europe. (Marc’s) best came later, this is why he has a lot to give yet. And physically he’s in great shape, he takes care of himself. Sometimes I joke with him … Sometimes I say, ‘Enjoy a little bit of paella, right?’ But he’s great pro, that’s why he’s in great shape at 34.”

Marc Gasol is not the first NBAer in his family that the Raptors have had interest in over the years. Pau had a long free-agency dalliance with Toronto in 2016 before he ultimately signed with San Antonio when the Spurs offered a longer-term deal.

Ujiri was able to land Marc when the Grizzlies decided to change the direction of their franchise. Gasol was dealt at the deadline, guard Mike Conley could go this summer.

“You know, the kind of players they are, these are legends in Memphis and ... I don t remember them ever being available,” Ujiri said after making the trade. “And now they were in this position, and obviously Marc fits with us.”

The days before the deadline were long for Gasol. “You don’t know. You don’t know anything and it’s out of your control,” he said. “Everyone is talking about it and everyone is asking you and you just don’t know. As far as the routine goes, the habits are the same. I stayed with my family and my kids, that’s a pretty good distraction to have.”

Gasol did, however, have some familiar faces to greet him in Toronto: Scariolo and Ibaka, who was a teammate on the Spanish national team.

Gasol is also friends with former Raptors Jose Calderon — “He’s a great team player, he will make everyone better,” Calderon said Thursday — and Jorge Garbajosa, now the president of the Spanish national federation.

And he has the support of brother Pau. “He was excited,” Marc Gasol said. “Everybody knows what kind of team the Raptors have, and adding me — and (he) knows the type of player that I am — he knows what they are trying to do. It’s exciting, obviously.”
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