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Thank You, Big Spain: An ode to Marc Gasol

Photo Credit: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY

In the quarter century history of the Toronto Raptors organization, few players have made as great an impact in so little time as Marc Gasol did in his year and a half with the team.

Acquired via trade from Memphis just prior to the NBA Trade Deadline in 2019, the Barcelona-native was considered to be the missing puzzle piece to complete the championship-contending Raptors. While many fans were sad to see longtime Raptor Jonas Valanciunas go the other way, Gasol quickly won over the Toronto faithful with his experience, leadership and two-way ability at center.

The rest, as they say, is history. Gasol averaged 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and three assists in 24 playoff starts, shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three on route to an NBA Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors.

The title celebrations gave us some of the most cherishable moments in Canadian sports history, many of which were supplied by the big Spaniard. From his passionate three-way embrace with Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry seconds after the Raptors secured the Larry O’Brien trophy, to his legendary championship parade display – during which he impressively downed a whole bottle of wine in the blink of an eye – Marc embodied the emotions of every player and fan following the triumph.

Best ever Grizzly?

Marc Gasol made his debut for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008 at 24 years old. He had initially been drafted by the Lakers with the 48th pick in the 2007 Draft, but was later included in the blockbuster deal that sent his brother Pau to Los Angeles from Memphis.

In 11 seasons in Tennessee, Gasol averaged 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, made First Team All-NBA in 2015, Second Team All-NBA in 2013 and was selected to three All-Star games. Gasol made the playoffs on six occasions with the Grizzlies, reaching the conference finals in 2013 (swept by San Antonio).

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Gasol is the franchise-leader in many statistical categories, including minutes played, field goals, total rebounds and blocks. The long-time duo of Gasol and guard Mike Conley kept the Grizzlies competitive in the Western Conference for the better part of a decade, but never got close to bringing the franchise its first championship.

Finally a champion

On February 9th, 2019, the Toronto Raptors acquired Gasol from Memphis, trading Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a 2024 second-round pick to secure the Spaniard’s services. As highlighted before, Marc’s acquisition spurned Toronto’s title charge, rounding out a star-studded lineup.

In 70 appearances for Canada’s team, Gasol averaged 8.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. While timid on offence, the 6-foot-11 center made his presence known on the defensive end, where he produced a 103 defensive rating per 100 possessions over his two seasons with Toronto. Gasol’s timely three-point prowess and ability to make plays from the high post also consolidated Nick Nurse’s half-court offence.

His second season with the team, cut short due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, marked the beginning of the end for Marc’s NBA career. The then 35 year-old struggled to keep up with the Raptors’ pace of play, and saw his stat-line take a hit. Following the suspension of the season, Gasol’s play in the Orlando bubble was poor, failing to make enough of an impact to help his team past the second round of the playoffs. He averaged only six points per game, shooting 39.1 percent from the field and a dreadful 18.5 percent from three.

Following the exit at the hands of the Boston Celtics, Gasol chose to sign with the defending champion Lakers as a free-agent, ending his short but fruitful tenure with Toronto.

A painful end

The Lakers were largely expected to repeat as champions heading into the 2020-2021 season. With an even better squad on paper, including free-agent acquisition Marc Gasol, LeBron and Co. were poised for another trip to the Finals. Unfortunately for them, most of the new names brought in failed to make a significant impact, Gasol being among them.

He recorded a career-low in minutes played with 19.1 per game, failing to cement himself as the team’s #1 center and falling lower in the pecking order when Andre Drummond was signed mid-season. Gasol admitted in April that we was frustrated and unsure of his role on the team, labelling himself as something of an afterthought.

Both he and the Lakers were shocked by an inspired Phoenix Suns team in the first round of the playoffs, bowing out in six games.

¡Adiós, Marc!

On Friday, September 10th, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Marc Gasol, along with a 2024 second-round pick and $250,000, to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the draft rights to Chinese center Wang Zhelin. Memphis then placed Gasol on waivers to release him, practically ending his NBA career. The deal will save the Lakers $10 million on the salary cap and in luxury tax.

Gasol is reportedly living with his family back in his native Spain, and chose not to move back to Los Angeles for the 2021-2022 season. His release from the Grizzlies likely marks his retirement from the NBA, but it is unclear if the 36 year-old will continue his career in Spain. His older brother Pau currently plays for their hometown club FC Barcelona, the brothers’ first professional team.

Future Hall-of-Famer?

Through the 2010s, Marc Gasol was nothing short of a dominant NBA star. While he might not have been the flashiest player, and played the majority of his career in a smaller market, anyone coming up against Big Spain knew they were in for a tough game. He stood out with his poise, his silky smooth touch and his high IQ on both ends of the floor. He has the accolades and, very importantly, a championship ring to back up his claim to one day be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. We won’t know for sure for at least a couple of years. But one thing we do know is that he was integral to the Raptors’ championship run, and will live on in Toronto’s basketball legacy forever.

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