Pau Gasol has plenty of responsibilities during Lakers' visit to Barcelona
The Lakers arrived at Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain, in what Phil Jackson had hoped would become a productive practice session.
There was only one problem.
"I had five guys miss the team bus this morning," he told reporters. "I blame Pau [Gasol] for that, but we won't hold it against him. He took them out last night and showed them some of the sights of Barcelona. We got a little bit behind the 8 ball on this trip."
On a European trip that has featured plenty of publicity events, practices and travel, there has been very little time for the Lakers to accomplish what they've wanted on the court during the eight days between London and Barcelona. That's essentially why Jackson labeled training camp a "bust" before it even started.
There's at least one person who sees this trip, however, as more than an inconvenience in the training camp schedule. Gasol, a Barcelona native, calls the Lakers' exhibition Thursday against FC Barcelona a "very special game," but even he recognizes how the trip adds to his anxieties. Though he made it clear during the Lakers' media day that he wasn't going to be a "tour guide," Gasol's outing with his teammates epitomizes how the Lakers' trip to Barcelona further stretches his responsibilities.
"It's always special. "But at the same time, it wears you out a little bit," Gasol said. "The hardest part will be until the point of the game. That will be the toughest part because we will have a pretty busy schedule."
To hear Gasol tell it sounded pretty exhausting. Even a week before the trip began, Gasol rattled off the numerous public appearances, practices, media obligations and meetings with friends and family and could only imagine how much he'd feel stretched thin.
"I'll be pulled from many ways," Gasol said. "But I'll try to do what I can."
One of those efforts entailed treating the team to dinner, a gesture that at least made rookie forward Devin Ebanks feel appreciated. Tweeted Ebanks: "Had a great dinner wit my teammates just now, THANKS PAU GASOL FOR TAKIN CARE OFF DINNER FOR US IN YOUR COUNTRY." It also included meeting with fellow Spaniards, such as FC Barcelona's Juan Carlos Navarro, who reportedly told Gasol that his team will beat the Lakers, and basking in nationalistic pride. Spain accomplished plenty this year in the sports realm, including a World Cup, Gasol's NBA championship, Rafael Nadal's fifth French Open and Wimbledon title, Alberto Contador's triumph in the Tour de France and Fernando Alons' Formula One Grand Prix victory. And most importantly, Gasol hopes, the trip ends with a Lakers victory.
"It's a game I personally wouldn't want to lose. It's a personal thing."
The trip to Spain marks Gasol's third homecoming, including a 2003 exhibition game with Memphis in Barcelona and in 2007 in Madrid and Malaga. But the reasons for wanting to perform well go beyond wanting to put on a good showing before his hometown against a team he played for from 1999-2001 and led to a Spanish League championship. He's also expected to take on a heavy workload.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant told reporters he expects to play against FC Barcelona, but it remains uncertain whether he'll surpass the six minutes he allotted in an exhibition game Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves in London, and Jackson expects Gasol to lead the team instead. Lakers center Andrew Bynum remains sidelined while recovering from a surgically repaired right knee, meaning Gasol will shoulder most of the minutes inside. It'll mean Gasol needs a better showing against FC Barcelona than against Minnesota, where he posted numbers that would embarrass him before his native country: seven points, five fouls and four turnovers. And for all the motivation this game conjures up for Gasol, it'll mark a good test for him after devoting his off-season to resting up and going on various international trips.
That extra energy could come in handy for a man stretched thin on his homecoming visit.
"I didn't really have a chance to realize I'm away from basketball or that I've taken a break," Gasol said about his off-season. "But at the same time, I feel refreshed, excited and ready to go and start playing basketball."
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