Pau Gasol, who left the Lakers and their ongoing soap opera behind when he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent last summer, said Thursday he was touched to hear that Lakers Coach Byron Scott said fans should give him a standing ovation when he returns to Staples Center on Thursday night for the first time.
Gasol, who is averaging 18.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for the Bulls (30-17), said he valued Scott’s suggestion that fans “show him the respect that he deserves” as a two-time champion with the Lakers.
“I appreciate it. I think it’s a compliment from Byron and I appreciate his support -- and anybody’s support for that matter,” Gasol said before the Bulls’ shootaround at UCLA’s Student Activities Center.
“But he’s the head coach of the team at a time the team is struggling and not going through their best, so any kind of words of support or compliments are well-received and welcome.”
Gasol has enjoyed a surge the last 10 games, a span that begins with his 46-point, 18-rebound game against Milwaukee on Jan. 10. Over the last 10 games he’s averaging 19.6 points and 14.3 rebounds, and he attributed his success to feeling more comfortable in the city and with the team.
“Just things coming together,” he said. “Continue to work and play with energy, playing with passion, I always try to do. It’s one of those stretches. Sometimes you get good stretches, sometimes you get tougher or rougher stretches and right now I’m in a good streak, a good mood.”
Gasol faced the Lakers at the United Center in Chicago on Dec. 25, contributing 23 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and three assists to the Bulls’ 113-93 victory. Kobe Bryant missed that game to rest and will miss Thursday’s game after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair his rotator cuff; Gasol said he spoke to Bryant after he learned of Bryant’s injury “to just kind of send him some good energy.”
Gasol said he expected to feel various emotions Thursday night when he walks into what he called “such a special building” and sees many familiar faces. He said he will have “a lot of people coming to the game tonight, people that are meaningful to me that I miss.”
He added, “It’ll be an exciting, emotional game, experience, time, moment, so I look forward to be out there and play a good game and kind of absorb the experience and thank the fans and the organization for all the time and the experiences we shared together.”