Source AP ©

Pau Gasol to seek means of connection with fans

Pau Gasol went to new Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace trying to find out how he could connect with fans.

Wallace told him about a charity event for season-ticket holders. The catch? The event started in two hours. So Gasol canceled his plans, jumping at the chance to begin repairing his relationship with Grizzlies' fans unhappy that he demanded a trade last season, trying to escape the NBA's worst team.

Problem is, the All-Star forward is still with the Grizzlies.

That's why Gasol has been using his time and money, even hiring a community-relations specialist, to repair his image.

"I want to be more involved with different things out there," Gasol said. "I want the community to know I'm putting effort out there. I don't want to be seen as a greedy player, or as a guy who doesn't want to be here."

Before his midseason trade request, Gasol was sidelined nearly two months with a broken left foot. That led to a slow start that resulted in the firing of coach Mike Fratello. The Grizzlies were accused of a lack of effort, and then team president Jerry West announced he was leaving after his contract ended.

It was all part of the most frustrating stretch Gasol has endured as a player.

"Last year was really, really hard in many ways," Gasol said. "From my injury to the (trade) situation, the losses, the criticism, a lot of negative things. A lot of things happened that did not help me or the team."

A 7-footer with a thick beard and floppy, brown hair, Gasol is not revered in Memphis like he is in his native Spain, but better play could help him reclaim his elite status and the Grizzlies' place in the playoffs. Even though the only All-Star Memphis has ever known has yet to win a playoff game, his teammates say he's irreplaceable.

"We go how Pau goes," forward Mike Miller said. "A lot of times, his play dictates how well we play. That's just the way it is."

While Gasol spent the offseason working to reconnect with fans, the Grizzlies did their best to make Gasol feel more at home.

Memphis acquired fellow 7-footer Darko Milicic from the Orlando Magic to help Gasol battle a Western Conference loaded with talented big men.

Perhaps the biggest move came when the Grizzlies sent a draft pick to the Washington Wizards for Juan Carlos Navarro, Gasol's best friend and teammate on Spain's national team. The two have known each other since they were 14, back when Navarro, in Gasol's words, was a "tall and skinny kid with no coordination."

Navarro should help keep the Grizzlies' forward content.

"It's important for Pau that I'm here," Navarro said through an interpreter. "But it's just as important that he's here for me. We can both help each other. I can be at his house now, instead of talking to him from the other side of the world."

The preseason began on a sour note for Gasol, who sprained his left ankle last week, but he is expected to start in the season opener against San Antonio on Oct. 31.

Despite the injury, new Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni said he likes how Gasol has asserted himself as the team's leader.

"He knows he has to show grit out there. He's been doing it more and more," Iavaroni said. "He's been showing that on the inside. Sometimes, perhaps in the past, he's been maligned for not showing it on the outside. We know it's there, we just want to make sure he's showing his teammates by example."

Still, the question remains. Does Gasol want to be in Memphis?

"As long as I'm happy and we're winning and we're on the same page, that's what I'm committed to," Gasol said. "I want to produce, and I want to be effective. I want to keep growing. I just want to keep growing and growing, and I want my teammates to grow with me."

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