As the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors kicked off training camp on Sunday at Laval University, veteran big man Marc Gasol was mostly a spectator.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse confirmed that the team plans to monitor the early season workload for its 7-foot-1 centre after he spent much of his summer leading Spain to a FIBA World Cup gold medal. He practised lightly on Day 1.
“I was not in a lot of drills, but it felt good to just get back out there with the guys, build the chemistry up, start communicating, ” Gasol said after the Raps’ first practice at Laval University’s state-of-the-art athletic complex in Quebec City. “I think you have to trust the medical team. Obviously as a player, you always want to play, you know, your competitive nature. But you have to protect yourself from yourself a little bit. Let the guys who are professionals make those decisions."
Gasol, 34, who is entering his 12th NBA season, averaged 14.4 points and 5.5 rebounds over 28.5 minutes in each of Spain’s eight-game run at the World Cup in China. Add that on the end of the Raps’ lengthy run, which stretched into mid-June and during which he played in 24 playoff games on top of 79 in the regular season – all the while averaging more than 30 minutes of action.
“Yeah, it’s not always practical to play for the national team, because it is taxing on your body and it takes time away from family, from recovering, from working on your own game, working on your body,” Gasol said, surrounded by a large pack of media from both Toronto and Quebec City. “But at the same time, it does a lot of good for you, as far as commitment, loyalty, and playing for something bigger than you.”
Gasol is one of 10 returning Raptors in camp from the championship squad. They’re joined in Quebec this week by 10 new faces battling for roster spots.
“I’m really in no hurry to see him hit the floor, especially in any of our contact stuff right now,” Nurse said of Gasol. “But I know him. I already wandered past him one time today and he was like ‘I wish I was out there.'"
Raptors assistant coach Sergio Scariolo – who was also Spain’s coach – says that while it consumed much of their summer, Spain’s gold-medal run can be a positive experience to draw from as he and Gasol try to help the Raptors defend their title. Few picked Spain to win gold, just as few pundits predict the Raps will repeat, especially after the free-agent departures of starters Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
“Marc, as you know, is not somebody who is leading by scoring. He is doing so many things off the court, on the court, helping the new guys. And then when it was time to step up and score, like in the semi-final against Australia, he did it,” Scariolo said. “Don’t let anybody say you aren’t one of the possible winners and that you have no chance to end up winning. Last year with the Raptors, we were probably not one of the top three teams in the initial rankings. But we worked hard, we stuck together, we built up a pretty solid defensive system and offensively we were pretty effective. So you can definitely recognize the similarities between the two.”
After five days of camp at Laval, the Raptors’ preseason will tip off in Japan with two games against the Houston Rockets in Tokyo. The Raps will return to North America for exhibition games in Brooklyn and Chicago before unfurling their championship banner on opening night of the regular season in Toronto on Oct. 22 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Nurse said the Raptors are holding Kyle Lowry out of contact drills for now, too. Toronto’s all-star point guard had a surgery in July to repair ligaments in his left thumb, which had been injured during the playoffs.
After just a single practice on Sunday, reporters were already pressing Nurse to speculate on what the Raptors’ starting lineup may look like once the season is in full tilt.
“I would say I think there’s a big group of guys that could start a number of games,” Nurse said. “I could see Kyle, Pascal [Siakam] and Marc, obviously. Serge [Ibaka], I could see Fred [VanVleet], Norm [Powell], OG [Anunoby], Pat McCaw. … I see all those guys starting at times, different times, and that’s kind of what I’m planning on doing.”