Learning On The Run
When Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin became Toronto Raptors within a week of one another, their experiences were both the same and different. For Gasol, who had spent his entire NBA career in Memphis playing with the Grizzlies, it was the first time he had been traded. Everything was new. Lin had played for seven teams in his career prior to signing with the Raptors. Getting adjusted to a new city and teammates was something he did have experience with, but changing teams in the middle of an NBA season was a first.
“It was just a big change for me,” Lin said. “It was like I've never [gone to a new team] mid-season, so I had to get acclimated quickly. The biggest thing was like, ‘Man, there’s a lot to learn.’”
With the help of teammates and coaches and plenty of solo film study sessions, both players are starting to find their way as the newest members of the team. In Toronto’s 128-92 victory against the New York Knicks on Monday, Lin led the way offensively, scoring a team-high 20 points off the bench on 7-for-11 shooting. Gasol was in the starting five and finished with a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double one game after putting up nine points, 11 rebounds and eight assists while flirting with a triple-double.
Even casual NBA fans are familiar with Lin’s rise during the height of Linsanity, when he was a member of the New York Knicks during the 2011-12 NBA season. After a stint in Golden State the year before, Lin was claimed off waivers by the Knicks, and became the first player in NBA history to record at least 20 points and seven assists in his first five starts. These games included a 38-point performance at Madison Square Garden against the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as a 27-point, 11-assist performance en route to hitting the game-winning jumper against the Raptors in Toronto. In addition to his time with the Knicks, Lin has played for the Houston Rockets, Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.
For Gasol, things unfolded a bit differently. Though he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2007, he was still playing professionally in Spain when L.A. traded his rights to the Memphis Grizzlies in order to acquire his older brother, Pau, in 2008. In 11 years with the Grizzlies, Gasol was a three-time All-Star, a member of the 2014-15 All-NBA First Team and 2012-13 All-NBA Second Team and the 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also had a lengthy and decorated career with the Spanish national team, winning two Olympic silver medals and a FIBA World Cup title.
More than just past and present accolades, though, the Raptors added two players to their roster who bring experience and reputations for being great teammates. “They fit right in,” Danny Green said. “It’s like we didn’t miss a beat.”
Lin’s first game in Toronto came with a standing ovation when he was announced. It also had his mom sitting in the stands. “She was in New York so she wanted to come here,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, she had a blast, we got a win, so she was enjoying it. I thought it was great. “[I’m] thankful for the standing O.” While Lin’s mother was able to make the flight and see her son’s debut with the Raptors, Gasol was waiting on his family to be able to join him in their new city.
“Leaving my family was the hardest [part of the trade],” Gasol said. “The human aspect of the trade is the hardest part. For a few days you’re waking up and you don't even know if it’s real or not. That was my 11th season in Memphis, so that was the only place I knew and leaving my family behind and doing it kind of alone in a way was probably the biggest thing for me to adjust to.”
Feeling comfortable with the destination you’re heading to certainly makes things easier. “The quality of the organization,” Gasol said. “That is the first thing that stood out to me. The quality of the organization, then the fan base, how passionate they are about the game and team. They are ready. It’s really good to see. You’re getting sellout crowds every game, since I’ve been here at least, and I’m sure before that too, It’s great to see and that gives you that extra push. Having the crowd behind you backing you up really helps.”
Now 15 games into his tenure with the Raptors, Gasol is already showing chemistry with his teammates, as well as showing off his ability to pick up new plays almost immediately. “He has plays down so fast,” Green said. “It shows how smart a player he is. I knew that before he got here. I’ve played against Marc so many times. You could tell he’s a high-IQ basketball player. Playing against him in Memphis, he would kill us. If you tell him a play, [he's like], ‘Alright, cool.’ And he knows it already. There’s guys that have been here for two years that don’t know plays like that.”
In addition to knowing Green, Gasol also had history with Kyle Lowry. The two were teammates for half of Gasol’s rookie season, before Lowry was traded to the Houston Rockets. Immediately after arriving in Toronto, Gasol had a game plan in place to get brought up to speed quickly.“You go for the point guard,” Gasol said. “You go for the brains of the team and you do a lot of homework. You watch a lot of film, you ask Serge [Ibaka] how to play the position. Obviously [Kyle and I] played before and have great respect for one another and we want to win.”
Like Gasol, Lin went to a familiar face to get caught up quick. Lin and Green previously played together in the G League, two young players hoping to prove they belonged in the NBA. Though Lin’s first conversation with Green was to figure out the specifics of Lowry’s intricate pre-game routine — so he wasn’t left looking confused like Gasol was during his first game as a Raptor — the subject matter quickly turned to basketball and Green has been an invaluable help to Lin. Along with Green and Lowry, Lin has also been getting in extra time studying film on his iPad. “Kyle's very easy to play with and very easy to play off of so we’re figuring that out,” Lin said. “Danny’s really vocal which we really need and Kyle is just a tremendous team player and leader so those are two things that really stood out [after arriving].”
For Gasol, everything is new now. Different practice schedules and shootaround times. A different route to the arena on game days. Playing for a new organization for the first time in his career means carving out a new game-day routine, and figuring out exactly what his role will be on this team. "As far as a player goes, I’m just rolling with whatever is thrown at me and having a lot of fun with it too,” he said. “Kind of changing routine and seeing different ways of doing things and all that stuff, it’s kind of fun. Adjusting and evolving as a player and not being stuck in a certain way, I’m happy for those things.”
Though Gasol and Lin are still relatively new to the city and the team, things are getting smoother game by game. Helping to make it easier, of course, is a shared goal. “The thing that brings everyone together … We’re trying to win,” Gasol said.
As for what else there is to know about the two newest Raptors players, Gasol says that will come in time. “We will get to know each other along the way.”