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Marc Gasol says it was tough to leave the Toronto Raptors for the Los Angeles Lakers

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Marc Gasol admits that walking away from the Toronto Raptors — the franchise that delivered him the first and only championship of his 12-year career two seasons ago — was painful, even though it meant he was joining the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

“It was tough,” Gasol said Wednesday, conducting his introductory news conference with the Lakers over a videoconference call from Spain. “It was very hard. The first couple days [of free agency] were a little tough for me, but once you kind of decide, ‘OK, what [do] you want to do next? Where? How [do] you want to go about your next challenge?’ I thought the right thing to do was go with Lakers.”

Gasol signed a two-year, $5.3 million deal to come to L.A., league sources told ESPN. The 35-year-old center was drafted by the Lakers with the 48th pick in 2007 and later traded to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a trade for his older brother, Pau, in 2008.

Marc Gasol went on to play 10½ seasons in Memphis before being traded to Toronto, where he teamed up with Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry & Co. to win a ring in 2019 over an injury-riddled Golden State Warriors team at the end of its dynastic run.

“How I’m going to remember the Raptors? First, I’m going to miss Toronto,” Gasol said. “Toronto has been a great place, my family was very settled there, very comfortable, they really enjoyed their time. …

“And that’s just the way, sadly, this business goes. I thought my run in Toronto could not get better and we’d always be chasing the ring, that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to be the player that they needed me to be there in order to win it. So I thought that the right thing to do for me was to join the Lakers and contribute to what they got going on.”

Further complicating his decision about whether to remain with the Raptors was the news that they would play their home games in Tampa, Florida, this season, at least to start.

“I told my teammates that have remained there — Kyle, Freddy [VanVleet], Pascal [Siakam], Norm [Powell] and the rest of the guys and even Coach [Nick Nurse] — how much they meant to me, how much they helped me,” Gasol said. “And I’m going to miss them a lot, I can’t lie to you, because we went through something together that’s very unique, that is very special, and it creates a bond forever and no one can take that away from us.”

A three-time All-Star and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol averaged 7.5 points on 42.7% shooting (38.5% from 3), 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game last season — a significant dip from his career averages of 14.6 points on 48.1% shooting.

With Toronto, he could have been asked to play a larger role after the L.A. Clippers signed Serge Ibaka. With the Lakers, he will fill in a big-man rotation around All-NBA performer Anthony Davis along with Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris.

“Having a chance at being a part of a great team and seeing how the coach [Frank Vogel] and the GM [Rob Pelinka] and everyone felt that I could contribute to that, that to me said a lot,” Gasol said. “A team that just won a championship pitching those ideas to you, and that to me was awesome.”

While he labored over his decision between L.A. and Toronto, Gasol said he never seriously considered returning home to Spain to play for F.C. Barcelona, despite a report to the contrary.

Although Pau Gasol helped Kobe Bryant hang two championship banners at Staples Center in 2009 and 2010 — Marc says he was at Game 7 of the 2010 Finals when L.A. broke through against the Boston Celtics — he hasn’t been heavy-handed in showing his little brother the ropes.

“He hasn’t given me any advice,” Marc Gasol said of Pau. “It’s a completely different team than it is now. I don’t think there’s any players left from back then, and a completely different coaching staff, so it’s up to me to make it work more than anything.”

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James Harden set for Brooklyn Nets debut after all trade physicals complete

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Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden will start Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic, according to coach Steve Nash.

Harden had been listed as questionable to play while the players involved in the trade that sent him from Houston to Brooklyn this week awaited completion of their physicals. The Nets upgraded him to available about two hours before the game.

That came around the same time that the Indiana Pacers announced they had acquired Caris LeVert, the Nets guard who was part of the deal that also included the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets remained without Kyrie Irving, who is out under the NBA’s health and safety protocols after missing the previous five games for personal reasons.

ESPN’s Malika Andrews and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Being seen as weak after playoffs ‘fueled me’

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After his playoff struggles in the NBA bubble, LA Clippers guard Paul George said he had to come back “with vengeance” this season to address the fact that “people saw weakness” in him.

A highly motivated George continued his torrid start to the season by making 8 of 14 shots and scoring 26 points to lead the Clippers to a 138-100 rout of the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on Friday night.

“I’m coming back with vengeance,” George said of his mindset entering this season after he and the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round to Denver last postseason. “I didn’t like, not so much of the noise and everything around [the way last season ended], but just the fact that people saw weakness.

“And I had to address that. I had to answer that. That fueled me. That put me in a place where I wanted to come back and be myself again.”

George told teammates entering the season that he was going to return to the form that helped him finish third in MVP voting during the 2018-19 season while in Oklahoma City.

“P is playing at a high level right now,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. “Which we all knew that he would. I feel as though he’s having an MVP season. And he told us that before the year started, that he was gonna come with it.”

George is shooting career highs of 50.3% from the field, 51.5% from 3-point range and 91.8% from the free throw line. He made 4 of 8 3-pointers against the Kings. George has made four or more 3s in 10 out of his 12 games this season.

George said he told teammates he was going to return to his MVP form this season because he had no other choice.

“After the tough year last year, it was the only way I could respond,” George said. “I immediately went straight to a dark place of where I just, I had nothing but to get better. That was the only thing on my mind and the only thing was to get better.

“Almost two years removed from having my shoulders operated on. … So I am just in a healthier mind state, I am in a healthier place.”

Last season, George struggled as he was coming off two shoulder surgeries following the 2018-19 season. During the NBA restart in the bubble, George suffered through the worst shooting slump he had experienced in the playoffs, going 10-for-47 combined in Games 2, 3 and 4, including missing 21 of 25 attempts from behind the 3-point line, in the first round against Dallas.

George admitted he had experienced bouts with depression and anxiety while in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, as he was unable to be with his family and loved ones. Then the Clippers collapsed in the second round to the Nuggets.

While George and Kawhi Leonard combined to shoot just 10-for-38 and score a combined total of 24 points in their Game 7 loss, George was the one who took a ton of heat from critics. His corner 3-point attempt that hit the side of the backboard in the fourth quarter symbolized the Clippers’ meltdown.

George not only was roasted on social media, but he even heard trash talking this season from opponents such as Phoenix’s Chris Paul and Devin Booker during a game on Jan. 3 when George and the two Suns guards exchanged words. George said he heard “a lot of chirping and people just living in the past.”

George has opted to let his game do his talking, averaging 25.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals to go with his career-best shooting percentages.

“He was able to work out this summer,” Leonard said. “Last summer he was limited, probably only could shoot 10 shots a day or so with his shoulder surgeries. He’s coming out with determination and he’s focused.”

“I can’t predict the future,” Leonard added on whether he saw this coming when the two worked out in the offseason. “But all I could say is he put his mind into his work, and when I did go work out with him, a lot of his stuff was like kind of game-simulated, working on the passes, reads, and it just translated over pretty much.”

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Who’s the best 3-point shooter on the Lakers? LeBron James, Anthony Davis weigh in

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The Los Angeles Lakers went into Friday with the third-best 3-point percentage in the league and were hot from the outside once again in their 112-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, hitting 15 3s at Staples Center.

LeBron James was responsible for two of them, going 2-for-6 from deep, which caused his season percentage to dip ever so slightly to 38.2% — which would be the second-best 3-point shooting season of his 18-year career should he keep it up.

Earlier in the week, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James was “probably the best shooter on our team,” which begs the question: Does James agree with his coach?

“I mean, we got a lot of great shooters on the team, man,” James said. “KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], a great shooter. Wes Matthews, great shooter. Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] can shoot the heck out of the ball. Dennis the Menace [Dennis Schroder] can shoot the ball. AD [Anthony Davis] can shoot the ball. So we got a lot of great knock-down shooters.

“Obviously, if someone says, ‘Bet,’ then obviously you guys know, I’m going to take myself. That’s just the competitive nature in me and the work ethic that I put into my shot. But I feel real good with my shot right now, both from the free throw line and also from the 3-point line, and I want to continue that.”

Davis, who lifted his 3-point marksmanship from 33% in his first season in L.A. to 39.4% going into the Pelicans game, slotted James a bit lower.

“I would have to say Kenny is always our guy who we always look to for shots,” Davis said, referring to Caldwell-Pope. “Wes is still struggling to find his consistent 3. He’s been getting open looks, but I still put Wes up there. I put Bron third, just because of this year he’s been able to shoot the ball extremely well. Marc [Gasol] can shoot it. Marc is up there. And then I put myself. Dudz [Jared Dudley]. AC [Alex Caruso].”

For those scoring at home, that is nine different 3-point shooters rattled off by the Lakers’ co-captains — and doesn’t even include guys such as Quinn Cook and Markieff Morris, who live beyond the arc when they’re on the court.

Caldwell-Pope, who shot 4-for-6 from 3 on Friday and moved past Metta World Peace for ninth place on the Lakers’ all-time franchise list for 3-pointers made, was not ready to crown James as the team’s 3-point shooting king so long as he is involved.

“Numbers don’t lie,” he said, alluding to the career-best 55.3% he’s shooting from 3 so far this season. “But I’m really enjoying LeBron shooting the ball. He’s shooting it at a tremendous clip. He’s knocking them down and it’s fun seeing him have [success] shooting the ball as well. But we all know, I’m the real shooter, for sure.”

He might have a legitimate claim there, but, as Davis pointed out, everyone also knows that James gets certain privileges that Caldwell-Pope will never see.

“You know LeBron’s always going to be up there because he shoots a ton of them, especially when he gets hot, and starts shooting halfcourt and things like that,” Davis said. “I don’t think Coach will allow Kenny to do that.”

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