As an obsessive individual that needs all my ducks in a row in order to quell those looming spells of anxiety, waiting can be damn hard. Painstakingly so. The moment that something falls out of your hands and you have to rely on others, doubt begins to creep in. Maybe I’m a perpetual pessimist, but in those moments it is inescapable to have the feeling of hoping for the best yet expecting the worst.
Patience is not always a virtue. I’m sure Marc Gasol can empathize.
It is inconceivably painful for a player to witness firsthand the foundation that they built for over a decade be chipped away at ever so slowly by an organization, one ugly contract at a time. One injury at a time. One coach firing at a time. One mind-boggling front office decision at a time. By February 2019, the masterpiece that Gasol painted in Memphis was vandalized with graffiti, bearing no resemblance to the competitive playoff basketball team that he anchored year after year.
It was time to start anew.
The ‘blow it up’ rebuilding ideology has permeated throughout modern NBA front offices. However, it can be equally as beneficial for those departing players to be cleansed of their previous basketball experiences and thrust into an entirely different environment and role.
This could not be truer with Gasol’s circumstance. His production with the Grizzlies began to tail off during the 2018-19 season as the writing was on the wall once more. A timely trade to Toronto in February reinvigorated the Spaniard and simultaneously propelled the Raptors into legitimate title contenders. Within five months, Gasol went from demonstratively pouting on the court and calling out his teammates’ commitment, to this:
Your parade MVP….Marc Gasol pic.twitter.com/ir5epaNvEg
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) June 17, 2019
The Gasol-Raptors pairing immediately proved to be a mutualistic relationship; something that I’d only ever read about in my seventh grade science textbook. The centre brought the exact skillset, intelligence, and experience needed to enable the team to coalesce, while the Raptors carved out a role that perfectly fit the aging star’s abilities. Gasol was no longer required to shoulder the load and was instead asked to become a star in his role.
One of the most important effects of Gasol’s addition was that his presence became the bridge that finally infused Kawhi Leonard into the Raptors offence, after the team and the Finals MVP spent much of the regular season merely co-existing. The former playoff rivals slowly developed a two-man game during the regular season, which later paid dividends in the playoffs as opponents often sent Gasol’s defender to trap Leonard. With greater attention being applied on Leonard, Gasol’s quick decision-making opened up opportunities for Toronto’s supporting cast.
Many people have likened the Raptors championship team to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and in some ways Gasol could be considered the Tyson Chandler of the comparison. Like Chandler, Gasol arrived that season and immediately became the backbone of the defense: a fortifying presence that knew his role as a veteran. The Raptors were already a quality defensive outfit, however upon Gasol’s arrival and the heightened intensity of playoff basketball, the team defence became a vaunted machine that moved in synchronicity to envelop their opponents.
Gasol’s addition to the team as a much needed three-point shooting big man became a key point of success and frustration amongst the Raptors fanbase. At times, Gasol would nail back-to-back triples which would ascend Toronto’s offence into an unstoppable force. On other occasions he would constantly pass up open shots in the hopes of making the extra pass that had been his greatest skill for over a decade. Yet this season, given the incredible talent flanking him, Gasol was the open man for a reason — he was the least threatening scorer on the floor. It was a strange adjustment for a player to be ignored after being used to seeing extra defensive attention. Gasol never fully figured out a balance between his natural inclination to be a conduit on the floor and having to assert himself more as a shooter for the benefit of the team.
It was also clear that Gasol’s post-up game was no longer at the level necessary to be included into the Raptors offence with any regularity. Toronto’s pass-heavy offence with an abundance of shooting already diminished the usage of traditional post-ups, an area that Gasol used to use as a source of getting himself into the flow of the game. He could not score efficiently in the few opportunities he was given on the low block and had to rely solely on his three-point shoot to contribute as a scorer. Despite this, Gasol’s versatility as a shooter and passer in the pick-and-roll was the added wrinkle Toronto needed to keep opposing defences honest, and his ability to facilitate out of the elbow also provided Leonard and Kyle Lowry opportunities to operate off-ball.
In reflection, the Gasol trade was a resounding success for both the player and team. The combination of Gasol and Serge Ibaka as the centre options provided the team with unparalleled flexibility in their big man personnel during the playoffs. Gasol recently opted in to his $25.6 million player option and will return as a key piece of the Raptors title defence, assuming that Leonard returns. If our resident Fun Guy departs, Gasol could remain a part of the new-look team that will quickly search for a new identity or become an expiring trade chip that the Raptors could dangle in trade talks.