Kobe Bryant, left, and Pau Gasol embrace moments after Team USA beat Spain… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Sitting all alone on the bench, Pau Gasol appeared painfully disappointed as he processed Spain losing the gold-medal match against Team USA in the 2012 London Olympics, losing to an American squad in the final for the second consecutive time.
Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski congratulated him anyway, and moments later, Kobe Bryant came over to Gasol and the two hugged. It proved a telling moment and showed how the Laker teammates share a tight bond. Could it also have been Gasol’s last moment as an Olympian?
“It’s too early to say,” Gasol said on whether he’d play in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. “I always take it one year at a time and see the next goal and next target. My mind and my focus is on next season with my team on the Lakers and helping as much as I can to bring back the title. That’s where my head is at. 2016 is a little far ahead.”
Gasol talked to The Times recently from the African nation of Chad, where he’s centering his immediate focus working as a UNICEF ambassador this week in Sahel region. Nonetheless, Gasol remained concerned enough about the Olympic future of a key teammate. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka indicated to Spanish reporters that he was unhappy about his limited role in London and added that he may not even play in the 2016 Games.
“We hope Serge can be part of the national team for many years,” said Gasol, who averaged a team-leading 19.1 points per game on 57% shooting. “He brings so many special unique set of skills to the table.”
Yet Ibaka averaged only eight points in 15.1 minutes per game. Marc Gasol commanded more minutes (26.5) because of his vast Olympic experience, chemistry with his brother and his well-developed post game. Veteran forward Felipe Reyes, who averaged 9.75 minutes per game, also ate into Ibaka’s playing time. Even though Ibaka had 12 points and 9 rebounds in 22 minutes against Team USA in the gold medal game, he didn’t enter the game right away as Marc Gasol picked up four early fouls.
Gasol conceded he hasn’t spoken with Ibaka since the Olympics about his reduced role. But he believes Ibaka needed to better understand the team dynamic.
“We were very talented and we were very deep. There’s so many other great players,” Gasol said. “Some days you’ll play a little more. Some days you’ll play better. Some days you won’t. But at the end of the day, what matters is the team success. … He’s only 22 or 23. He has many years ahead of him. It’s good he has a desire and hunger. But he needs to understand the facts and circumstances of the moment and the needs long-term.”
Ibaka recently signed a four-year, $48-million extension with Oklahoma City, but it remains unclear whether that would soften his frustration with the Spanish national team. Still, Gasol hopes Ibaka’s realizes his role may expand in 2016 for a simple reason.
“I’m not going to play forever,” Gasol said. “Marc is not going to play forever.”
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