Portland Trail Blazers center Pau Gasol embracing role as mentor: Im excited to work with these guys – OregonLive

Posted: October 4, 2019 at 9:44 am


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Zach Collins was thrilled when he found out in July that six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol would be joining the Portland Trail Blazers on a one-year contract. He immediately reached out to friends to acquire Gasols cell phone number and shot the 39-year-old a text.

I texted him and said how much of a sponge Im going to be, Collins said. Just a guy like that, a Hall of Famer, a legend, someone that has gone up against the best, in the biggest moments and shown up -- Hes just an extremely good player, an extremely good dude... He just seems very open to teaching as well, which is huge for us.

Collins and fellow Blazers big man Skal Labissiere both grew up watching Gasol during his heyday with the Los Angeles Lakers. Collins was glued to his television back home in Las Vegas, while Labissiere watched on a small TV set from Haiti when Gasol helped lead the Lakers to the NBA Championship in 2009, and again in 2010.

The two young players -- Collins is 21 and Labissiere is 23 -- are now excited to spend the year learning from the future Hall of Famer. Both players believe that competing alongside a player of Gasols status will help them quickly take their own games to the next level.

I told him already, I want to work with you throughout the year, just learn some things, Labissiere said. Ive been asking him a lot of questions, just trying to pick his brain a little bit. Thats the first time I think in my career that Ive had somebody pretty much playing the same position as me that reached that level of success in his career."

Gasol is ready to embrace the mentorship role.

He has been giving his young teammates pointers and leading by example during the first few days of training camp, even as he has been limited in what he can do in practice as he continues to recover from a stress fracture in his left foot.

Im excited to work with these guys, Zach, Skal, Gasol said. They kind of share the mindset and attitude that Ive had throughout my career as far as getting better, as far as going out there and giving your best, knowing that some nights are going to be better than others, putting in the work, taking it seriously, doing whatever it takes, handling the emotions, the ups and downs of the season, which sometimes can be challenging. With all that, Im going to be there and I want to be there to help and support and (provide) guidance.

How Gasols relationship with Collins develops over the season both on and off the court could be particularly important for the Blazers.

Collins is projected to start at power forward this season after an inconsistent 2018-19 campaign where he showed promise early in the year and in playoffs, but struggled with mental lapses, shaky shooting and foul trouble. Collins averaged 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 blocks and 17.6 minutes in 77 games (zero starts) last year. But the Blazers believe that the talented 7-foot forward is primed to take the next step this year and develop into a consistent presence on the court. Collins believes that working with Gasol, who is entering his 19th season in the NBA, will only aid his development.

(Weve had) a couple conversations when were doing post drills and stuff, him just telling me little things here and there to help me out, Collins said. Ive more been observing what he does as a guy who has been in this league. He knows what he needs to do to get his body right. He knows what he needs to do to be ready. Its helping a lot.

While Gasols leadership and experience will be a huge asset for the Blazers, the Spanish legend is expected to be much more than just a mentor in Portland. The cerebral and versatile 7-footer might be well past his prime, but the Blazers still anticipate that he will play an important role off the bench as a center or power forward, assuming he can stay healthy.

I think primarily hell play the five, but if he and Zach are playing together, they have the ability to complement each other where each guy can play both spots, Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. If there are times that he plays with Hassan (Whiteside), hes improved his three-point shooting from an offensive standpoint. He can hurt a mismatch if they put an undersized guy on him and hes a very smart defender.

The Blazers first pursued Gasol back in free agency in 2016, but he ultimately signed with the San Antonio Spurs. After making a run to the Western Conference finals last spring, the Blazers once again aggressively pursued Gasol this summer. This time, Gasol felt it was the right fit. He said that he was impressed with the talent and maturity within the team and wanted to do his part to help put the Blazers in the best possible position to make another run this spring.

As big as the coaching staff wants me to be, the coaching staff believes that I can be, said Gasol about his role this year. I hope to add leadership on and off the court, experience and also quality play. Im excited after a difficult health year, frustrating, Im excited just to work on my body... I can do what I know on the court, just have fun with the guys and compete and play as hard as I can.

-- Jamie Goldberg | jgoldberg@oregonian.com

503-853-3761 | @jamiebgoldberg

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Portland Trail Blazers center Pau Gasol embracing role as mentor: Im excited to work with these guys - OregonLive

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