Pau Gasol has been a part of two championship teams, played alongside some of the game's greatest players and tasted the postseason 10 times for three different teams.
And yet despite his consistent success over the course of his 14-year NBA career, the Bulls center is mindful of how quickly a team's fortunes can change, meaning every opportunity to chase a title is a crucial one.
"The window is very small. You never know when it's going to close. You just know it's going to close fast," Gasol told reporters on a conference call from South Africa, where he's participating in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. "You just don't know exactly when. So you do have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along, and we have a great opportunity."
After signing a three-year, $22 million deal last July, Gasol brought his championship pedigree to a Bulls team that, when healthy, had the experience, talent and depth to compete with LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Myriad injuries during the regular season limited the Bulls, and though they won 50 games and earned the East's No. 3 seed, Gasol said the team's inconsistencies haunted them as they were ousted in the second round by Cleveland.
Sixth man Taj Gibson and the Bulls' four regular starters around Gasol missed at least 15 games each, totaling 102 DNPs. Still, that didn't entirely excuse the team from dropping home contests against the likes of Brooklyn, Utah, Orlando and Miami, failing to take advantage and widen the gap in the standings against a Cavaliers team that struggled through mid-January.
"We still had a lot of games we weren't ready to play, too many games we gave away against teams we were supposed to beat and were a better team overall," Gasol admitted. "And at the end of the day we paid the price of that lack of sense of urgency and giving importance to those moments in the regular season."
Gasol will suit up Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the NBA's first ever exhibition in the continent. The game will be headlined by South Sudan native Luol Deng, eight-time All-Star Chris Paul and Gasol's brother, Marc. It won't be the only non-Bulls basketball Gasol will play this offseason, as he plans to suit up for Spain in EuroBasket 2015. He'll be joined by Nikola Mirotic, and Gasol said he's excited to see how the pair will develop on and off the floor playing alongside each other for the favorites in the tournament.
When he returns to Chicago for training camp in September, he'll receive his first taste of playing under new head coach Fred Hoiberg. Gasol said he has spoken with Hoiberg on the phone and hopes to make a new transition with the "new philosophy he will implement."
As he did at Iowa State, Hoiberg is expected to increase the Bulls' tempo and allow his team to play more in transition; last year the Bulls were 21st in fast break points per game (11.0).
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Still, the 34-year-old Gasol warned about the Bulls not letting its collective guard down defensively simply because Hoiberg has replaced the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau. Last season the Bulls were 10th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency, the only season under Thibodeau in which they fared better with the ball than without it. Gasol was the Bulls' most consistent offensive threat, averaging 18.5 points on better than 49 percent shooting from the field. But despite averaging 1.9 blocks per game - the most for him since the 2006-07 season - he didn't provide the rim-protecting Thibodeau's defense could have used as Joakim Noah battled through knee soreness the majority of the year.
"As long as we understand that defense is what wins championships and makes the difference, we don't neglect that side of the game, which is critical, we should be fine," he said. "We can work on our offense all we want but defense is what's going to make the difference and how we're going to beat other teams."