Marc Gasol of Toronto Raptors sees FIBA World Cup opportunity with marquee NBA stars absent

Marc Gasol‘s summer has been short and sweet, as he had to shift from winning his first NBA title with the Toronto Raptors in June to preparing for national team duty with Spain for the FIBA World Cup that begins Saturday in China.

“Normally, you have more time to recover and get ready for the next season,” the 7-foot-1 center said recently in English and Spanish interviews with ESPN. “This year, it’s pretty much jump from one season to the national team dynamic.

“It’s been a different year … great year.”

Gasol’s Spain has as good a shot as several other teams to win the tournament — more so with top-ranked United States showing vulnerability in having its 78-game winning streak in international play snapped by Australia over the weekend. The Americans have had several All-Stars opt out of their roster this summer, including James Harden and Anthony Davis.

As Gasol sees it, others competing in the FIBA are also missing key people.

“To me, that’s all excuses if you want to make it [that],” he said. “With the void of some players comes an opportunity for other players to step up and get great experience at a really high stage.”

NBA champion Marc Gasol sees a wide-open FIBA World Cup field with several candidates capable of winning it all — including Spain. Photo by Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images

The Barcelona native — a self-described “Culé” as a follower of the popular La Liga club — recognizes only one true U.S. “Dream Team,” the one that conquered the 1992 Olympics in his hometown. Nevertheless, he considers the 2019 version of Team USA, with players such as Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell, to be a top threat, despite its marquee-name absences.

“Obviously, Team USA has so many great names that it’s … different for them. But also, they have a lot of talent coming up,” Gasol said. “So there’s always a time of transition for teams, and maybe for them it’s been all at once. But there’s always that point of transition. I don’t feel bad for them because they still have a whole bunch of talent coming up.”

The FIBA World Cup begins Saturday in China, with Serbia-Angola kicking off the group phase at 3:30 a.m. ET.
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Greece looms large at the FIBA with the participation of reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Serbia with Nikola Jokic, Argentina with its scrappy veterans and Gasol’s Spain comprise a pack of eight or nine teams out of 32 contenders that Gasol said are at a similar level heading into the FIBA. Spacing challenges under smaller FIBA court dimensions and limited practice time together also help level the playing field.

“The outcome depends on timing, what teams peak at the right time and play good games when they mean the most,” said Gasol, who didn’t participate in Tuesday’s final FIBA tune-up against Argentina because of stomach problems.

The Spaniards are missing Nikola Mirotic, Serge Ibaka, Sergio Rodriguez and Gasol’s older brother, Pau. Still, the team will rely on a mix of youth and experience with players such as NBA and Spanish league veteran forward Rudy Fernandez, Phoenix Suns point guard Ricky Rubio and Charlotte Hornets center Willy Hernangomez.

Spain also has FIBA gold on its résumé. The 2006 world championship was Marc’s first year wearing the senior team colors and saw Pau Gasol win tournament MVP honors.

“That generation [of players born in 1980, such as Pau Gasol, Felipe Reyes and Raul Lopez] allows us to think we can still be the best,” Marc Gasol said.

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The Raptors’ NBA title has “without a doubt” lifted Marc Gasol emotionally heading into the next season, considering what it took to win the title. The journey, he said, gave him a newfound respect for the Golden State Warriors‘ five straight trips to the championship.

Finals MVP Leonard, who won an NBA ring against the Warriors alongside Gasol, proceeded to sign as a free agent with the LA Clippers in the offseason. Gasol, an 11-year veteran, had spent his entire NBA career with the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded to the Raptors in February and said he understands his former teammate’s decision to return to his L.A. roots.

“I wasn’t surprised either way. If he stayed, I would not have been surprised because he had good reasons to stay. If he went home, I would not have been surprised because he’s going home,” Gasol said. “Wish him the best. We as a team have already moved on and are already thinking of the opportunity that brings to other players, including myself.”

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