After a difficult season, Lakers forward/center Pau Gasol is looking forward to a new start this fall with the Lakers sans Dwight Howard.
"I understood and understand it was a difficult situation for a lot of people, to make things work," Gasol said Friday in a phone call from Spain. "As difficult as it was at times, now it's behind us and all we can do is focus on the present and what's coming."
Coach Mike D'Antoni even benched Gasol for a stretch, hoping to find a way to build a winner around Howard despite Gasol's track record with two NBA titles.
"I don't hold grudges. I really don't get stuck in the past," Gasol said. "Things happen for a reason, that's why I always stay in the present. I'm happy with my position now. I'm excited to get started in training camp when the time comes."
To be fair, the decision to prioritize Howard over Gasol was a franchise decision -- not just D'Antoni's.
Howard has since departed for the Houston Rockets in free agency. After Howard announced his decision, Kobe Bryant posted a picture of himself with Gasol on Instagram.
"I appreciated it a lot, coming from him. We have a relationship, friendship and that showed how much he counts on me. I count on him, it was a great gesture from him," said Gasol of Bryant. "His support has been incredible. His loyalty and respect for me has been off the charts. I have the same amount of respect or more towards him. I appreciate that coming from him. It means a lot."
D'Antoni recently told local radio that he anticipates Gasol will be a major part of the Lakers' success next season.
"I expect him to have the best year he's ever had," said D'Antoni. "I'm extremely happy he's on the team."
Gasol will need to recover first from procedures in May on both knees to help alleviate tendinosis. He's still working his way back to health three months later.
"I'm still rehabbing. We're stepping up the workouts now," said Gasol. "So far, my knees are feeling well and my body is feeling well."
"First [goal] is to be healthy and then to play well, play at the highest level. That's what I'm working for," he continued. "I don't know if this is going to be the best season of my career, because to me, having the best season would be being among the best, but also winning a championship. We'll start from the beginning. I've already started my preparation, and I'm really looking forward to next season."
Gasol struggled with knee and foot injuries throughout the season. He also suffered a concussion for his efforts, missing a total of 33 games while averaging 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
The Lakers was moderately successful with a 45-37 record. A strong second half of the season was derailed when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles' tendon on April 12.
Gasol remains optimistic about his team's chances despite the roster changes and uncertainty with Bryant's health.
"It's going to be a big opportunity to hopefully surprise a lot of people and get as far as we can get," said Gasol.
The former All-Star will make $19.3 million in the final year on his contract with the Lakers.
"I would love to play for the franchise that I love playing for, that I'm proud to be a part of," he said. "It would be great to continue to play for the Lakers."
Gasol recently visited Syrian refugees in Iraq, as an ambassador for UNICEF. He hopes to raise awareness of a very difficult situation, with many in need.
"I'm just trying to raise awareness for these people and their children," said Gasol. "They're in a difficult situation."
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