Gasol keeping a healthy outlook

NOVI SAD, Serbia Montenegro -- It's Saturday afternoon and Pau Gasol is in the Novi Sad university gym working on his game with his personal coach, something he's been doing for the past three days.

His coach gets him warmed up with some jogging, ballhandling skills and a bit of stretching. Then they get to work on his offensive package: Low-post moves, layups, hook shots, shots off the dribble and even some 3-pointers -- the European kind, that is.

After every drill, Gasol heads for the free-throw line and has to make 10 shots. And by the end of it all, he's understandably winded.

The Memphis Grizzlies power forward is in town doing television work for Spanish network TVE and writing a daily column for sports newspaper Marca. And he's making the usual public appearances at the European Basketball Championships held here in Serbia Montenegro.

Gasol is sitting out the tournament to recover fully from injuries to his feet that sidelined him in February and March.

"I could have played," Gasol said. "I've been able to play for a while now, but Memphis wanted me to rest so I can be ready for the season. They don't really want me to play during the summer because the season is so long."

A day earlier, during the opening group games of the Eurobasket competition in the Spenz Sports Center, a familiar face was in the crowd -- Memphis Grizzlies general manager Jerry West, who is here to watch the first day of the tournament and check in with his star player.

About this time last year, the Grizzlies re-signed the 2002 rookie of the year to a long-term deal.

The Spaniard was happy to stay in Memphis and work with West and coach Hubie Brown, who'd just led the team to its first playoff birth. But then Brown left.

"It's hard to tell what happened with coach Brown," says Gasol. "I think maybe he reached a stage where he couldn't take the rhythm of an NBA head coach's life anymore. But I can't thank him enough for what he's done for this franchise and for myself. He turned things around for this team.

"We had a lot of characters and maybe they were too much for him in the end."

Gasol is saying all these things as diplomatically as possible, but perhaps some players were disrupting the team chemistry and had to go.

And so, under Mike Fratello, the team went through a major shakeup this summer. Out went Bonzi Wells, Jason Williams, James Posey, Stromile Swift and Earl Watson.

"Obviously, I wish we hadn't lost some of the guys we let go, especially Stromile and Earl. We lost some quality players, but we got a lot of talent in exchange, too."

Gasol is referring to Eddie Jones, Damon Stoudamire and Bobby Jackson.

"What we get in these three guys are proven veterans who've all gone deep into the playoffs. They've reached the conference finals and came close enough to the Finals, and I like that we were able to add that.

"That experience of playing deep in the postseason was something we didn't have much of and really needed."

Unfortunately, there are still gaping holes on the Grizzlies' front line.

With Gasol, undersized center Lorenzen Wright, Jake Tsakalidis and Brian Cardinal, the team is pretty thin in the paint. Rookies Hakim Warrick and Lawrence Roberts have shown some glimpses in college and the summer league but not enough to pin all of Memphis' hopes on.

Gasol admits there is a bit of concern.

"We are a bit undersized, and it would be great if we still had time to get someone to help us out," he says. "But it's a bit late to get a good player on the free-agent market."

Talking to Gasol, it's admirable to see how unaffected he is by everything that has happened over the past year -- Brown's departure, the injuries, the change of personnel. Still, Gasol remains optimistic -- about everything.

"I can't wait to go back to Memphis to get to know the new guys and develop a good chemistry with them," he says.

"I'm going into my fifth season, and I feel I've played well so far in my career, but there is always room for improvement."

Simon Wilkinson writes for The Press Association in Europe.