For the record, 37-year-old Pau Gasol still gets butterflies before the start of another season.
“There’s a couple,” Gasol said after the Spurs’ shootaround Wednesday. “There used to be a lot of them. Now there’s still a couple of alive in there. Yeah, yeah, for sure.
“I love what I do. I feel like very lucky to play at this level for this long, or as long as I have. It’s always exciting to start off a new season. It’s always a special feeling.”
Gasol, a forward and center, will start his second season with San Antonio and his 17th in the NBA when the Spurs host the Minnesota Timberwolves in their opener at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the AT&T Center. The game will be the first of nine televised contests this season on KENS 5, the official station of the Spurs. Wednesday’s pregame show will air on KENS 5 at 8 p.m.
“It’s going to be a good test for us,” Gasol said. “We’re excited to kick it off tonight against Minnesota. Tough team, tough opponent. We know how much they added to their squad. It’s going to be a tough battle.”
The Timberwolves added some outstanding players in the offseason, including guard/forward Jimmy Butler. Acquired in a trade with Chicago, was a three-time All-Star with the Bulls.
Minnesota landed three other key players via free agency: guard Jamal Crawford (Los Angeles Clippers), point guard Jeff Teague (Indiana Pacers), and power forward Taj Gibson (Oklahoma City Thunder).
“Without question, they are one of the teams that everyone is keeping an eye on and understanding how well they strengthened their team, the additions they made to their team,” Gasol said. “They’re a team that everyone is going to have a hard time beating, I think.
“We’ve got to be aggressive with them because they’re long, they’re athletic, they’re physical. We’re going to have to play smart at the same time, be able to move them to side to side, move their defense, move their length, not allow them to run and get the ball out of our hands.”
Gasol, a native of Spain, won two NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. He signed with Chicago as a free agent in 2014 then left the Bulls after two seasons to sign a free-agent contract with the Spurs in the summer of 2016. Gasol said he thinks Butler, a former Chicago teammate, will fit in “perfectly fine” with the Timberwolves, who are coached by former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
“Thibs is the same coach that pretty much saw him grow up,” Gasol said. “He went from a role player to an All-Star with them. I expect him to make a smooth transition and for him to carry a dominant role with the team.”
While the preseason is beneficial in helping teams start the process of developing chemistry, Gasol said that players always look forward to the start of the season.
“I don’t know if you can compare it to the change from the regular season to the playoffs, but it’s kind of like a change of excitement, of attention, of intensity from every possible aspect,” Gasol said. “You expect high energy from the game and you expect maybe some extra mistakes here and there. But at the same time, hopefully, we’ll start off with a win, which I think that’s always the most important thing of the night.”
Gasol averaged 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in his first season with the Spurs.
An ardent Placido Domingo fan, Gasol lamented Sunday that the famed Spanish tenor’s concert at the Alamodome was scheduled for the same night as the Spurs’ season opener. But Domingo’s concert has been postponed.
Gasol is a good friend of Domingo, 76, and communicates with him regularly. Gasol said Sunday that he planned to call Domingo later that day to see if he could at least have lunch or dinner when he was in San Antonio. Gasol said Wednesday that he had spoken with Domingo.
Gasol smiled sheepishly when he was asked if he or the Spurs had anything to do with the postponement.
“I don’t know,” he said.
But Gasol quickly added that Domingo told him of the postponement in a phone conversation. Domingo planned to donate proceeds from the concert to support victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma via the American Red Cross Natural Disaster Relief Fund.
Gasol said that somebody realized that it would be “good idea” not to have the concert on the same night as the Spurs’ opener.
“That is great the light bulb lit up, and now hopefully, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the concert is [rescheduled to] a day when I’m in town and not playing,” Gasol said. “That would be magnifique.”