Pau Gasol is working toward what he hopes will be an NBA comeback and a spot on Spain’s Olympic team in Tokyo, the six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion told ESPN on Wednesday.
Gasol, 40, has identified the Los Angeles Lakers as one of his dream destinations.
“There is meaning and history there,” said Gasol, who won titles with the Lakers alongside Kobe Bryant in 2009 and 2010. “I’m not going to lie. It would be very special, and now that my brother [Marc] is there, even more special. But I’m not in a position now to be very demanding. I don’t have 10 offers on the table.”
Marc Gasol, Pau’s younger brother by 4½ years, signed a two-year, $5.25 million deal with the Lakers last month.
Pau Gasol has not appeared in a game since March 2019 and has undergone two surgeries since then to repair stress fractures in the navicular bone in his left foot, he told ESPN. Doctors first discovered the stress reaction in the fall of 2018, when Gasol was beginning his third season with the San Antonio Spurs, he said.
Gasol and his agent recently discussed training camp deals with some NBA teams, but Gasol preferred to do more conditioning before seriously engaging in talks, he said. He has been training in Northern California, where he is living with his wife, Catherine McDonnell, and their 3-month-old daughter, as he hopes to play again in the NBA as more than a glorified coach.
“I want the opportunity to contribute — to feel needed,” Gasol said. “Not just to be there. That’s not who I am. I want to enjoy it, and players usually enjoy playing.”
The Lakers’ level of interest in a Gasol reunion is unclear. Gasol has not played 5-on-5 since undergoing surgery, he said. He has set up 2-on-2 games with local players, including a former Stanford player and an employee of an NBA team who spends offseasons in the Bay Area, Gasol said.
Gasol has arranged for workout partners to receive weekly coronavirus testing and has them wear masks during contact drills, he said. Between sessions, he requests his workout partners remain vigilant about social distancing, wearing masks and other protective measures. Expanding beyond a few workout partners has been difficult during the pandemic.
“It’s not like we are living in a bubble,” Gasol said.
Still, full-contact drills are a long way from where Gasol’s rehab began after the two procedures in 2019. At first, he could put almost no weight on his foot. He had to strengthen it with basic exercises: curling his toes around a towel placed on the floor and then using his toes to pick up a pen and put it back down several times in a row, he said.
He progressed to wearing a walking boot and then to walking on soft surfaces like grass and sand.
“There were good days and then hard days where you say, ‘Is this really worth it? Maybe it’s time to let go,'” Gasol said.
The Gasol brothers were traded for each other in 2008, when the Memphis Grizzlies swapped the elder Gasol to the Lakers for a package — widely derided at the time — that included Marc, who was then playing overseas.
Pau Gasol had tried to convince Grizzlies management to draft Marc in 2007 then, once the Lakers picked him 48th, to trade for him. When the Grizzlies exchanged Gasols seven months later, one member of Memphis’ management team joked with Pau, “‘We finally got [Marc], thank you, Pau!'” the elder Gasol recalled. “I said, ‘Well, that’s not exactly how I envisioned it.'”
The brothers discussed where Marc might sign during his recent free-agency period.
“He had several teams that were interested,” Pau Gasol said of his brother. “What he valued most was the opportunity to win another championship. To play for the Lakers — it’s such a unique franchise. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and it’s very special for us to be the first brothers to play for the Lakers.”
“It would be incredible if it ends up happening where I can join the team at some point,” Gasol added.
Gasol has also wondered whether he would enjoy playing in any sort of bubble environment that would take him away from his wife and their daughter, Elisabet Gianna Gasol, whose middle name Gasol and McDonnell chose as a tribute to Bryant and his late 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
But Gasol is determined to take another shot at the NBA. He has spoken before of possibly ending his career with FC Barcelona, where he starred before coming to the United States, but has consistently said he would prefer to remain in the NBA.
After that, the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo loom. Gasol has played for Spain’s national team in four consecutive Olympics, helping it to silver medals in 2008 and 2012 and bronze in 2016. Gasol was injured last year when Spain won the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
“To be able to play five Olympics would just be extraordinary,” Gasol said.
Once he retires, Gasol would have interest in working for an NBA team in some capacity, he said. He’s just not ready for that yet.
“I’d love to be on an NBA roster at some point again — and maybe not too far from now,” Gasol said.