The Gasol Cunundrum
I walked into the gym with confidence and swagger. My Alma Mater, the mighty Christian Brothers Purple Wave was set to face off against the Lausanne Lynx in a Division 2 regional playoff game. Until just recently the Lynx had been an all girls college preparatory school. So of course I felt like CBHS, winners of countless regional titles, and the 1987 state championship, would handle the Lausanne Lynx.
My first feelings of doubt came when the Lynx entered the court for the layup line. An enormous young man jogged lethargically onto the court. Easily 6-8 inches taller than any of his teammates and 5 inches taller than anyone on the Purple Wave, it gave me a moment to pause. Still, we had faced many players over 6-10 before. Plus, this guy didn’t really look like he could run up and down the court for 32 minutes.
As the game began, I quickly realized this was not going as planned. A couple of very familiar names began to be called by the public address announcer, Gasol and West. Surely not, can’t be. A quick glance behind the Lausanne bench confirmed one suspicion. Seated rather inconspicuously with a hat partially covering his face sat the logo himself, Jerry West. A quick inquiry from the scorers table confirmed the other suspicion, yes that extremely tall and out of shape center was the younger brother of Grizzlies power forward Pau Gasol. His name was Marc.
On that chilly February 27 evening in 2003 I watched as the son of one of the greatest NBA players ever and the younger brother of the best player on the Memphis Grizzlies carved up my beloved Brothers defeating us 74-49. While Jonnie West was fantastic, Marc Gasol was even better. No he wasn’t athletic, but he made up for it with excellent footwork and a feathery shooting touch that extended well past the free throw line. This kid was good.
So almost 5 years to day later, on February 28, 2008 a deal was struck between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Lakers. Pau Gasol was traded for a 2nd round pick, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittendon…AND the rights to the Laker’s 2nd round pick from 2007 Marc Gasol. Marc was 23 and had been playing in his native Spain since his graduation from Lausanne, after flirting with joining John Calipari at the University of Memphis. Marc was headed back to the Bluff City after he signed a 3 year contract with the Grizzlies. Since the start of the 2008-2009 season Marc has been the starting center for the Grizzlies every year.
One interesting, no AMAZING fact, is that in the 19 seasons the Grizzlies have been in Memphis every year but 2 the starting center has graduated from a high school in Memphis. For 17 of the last 19 seasons either Lorenzen Wright or Marc Gasol have been the starting center for the Memphis Grizzlies. This from a town that isn’t exactly known for producing big men, and certainly isn’t the largest market in the NBA. You need a point guard…yep we got you covered. Need an athletic 6′-6″ guy, check out any gym. Heck, even an athletic 6′-9″ power forward, we get that occasionally. A 7′-0″ center with great hands and footwork…eh…let me get back to you.
So, this is where things get complicated with Marc Gasol. He has roots in the Bluff City. In some ways, he’s a Memphian. Adopted, maybe, and not the prototypical kid who finds NBA stardom from the seedier sides of the city, but still one of us. He has been here, fought here, bled here…even when he didn’t have to. He could’ve left before signing either of his contract extensions. He could’ve gone anywhere at various times, but he chose to stay. Marc and Mike Conley have been the foundation of a unit that has defined professional sports in a city that historically hasn’t had great reputation with professional franchises. Professional teams have come and gone in this town, and many predicted the same for the Grizzlies. Thanks in large part to our adopted son, that talk has died down from all but the most fervent negatives.
Now Marc, who will turn 34 during this upcoming season, is potentially in the last year of his contract. There are 2 years left, but the last year is a player option so this could be the last year. That puts the Grizzlies in a tight spot. Now I’m fully aware that I wrote not long ago the Grizzlies should avoid a HARD reset. Trading both Mike and Marc would do just that, and the Grizzlies don’t have the resources right now for that. That doesn’t mean you can’t trade one of them. But SHOULD you.
The situation with Gasol is unenviable for the Grizzlies. At this point in his contract and with his age you will not get a return that is equal to his talent on the court. For example, there is no way the Knicks would trade you Porzingis for Gasol. Marc is arguably the better player, but his age and contract situation make him less valuable. In fact, I would bet it would be highly unlikely you could get a lottery pick for Marc right now. You could probably get some salary cap relief, and maybe a player or a 2nd rounder.
Here’s the rub though. Marc has made it very clear he wants to win. Understandable honestly. If I were in his shoes, I would as well. Plus he can help a team win. His defensive player of the year days may be behind him, but he still can defend and that feathery shot that was put on display back in 2003 is still there. Marc deserves the chance to play for a title. He deserves to be on a team that can compete for a title, which is the conundrum.
So the Grizzlies could trade Marc to a team that can win now. That would probably mean getting back an expiring contract and a late first rounder. The Grizzlies could also just let Marc play out this season, deny his player option, and become a free agent. Then of course Marc could sign wherever he wanted. Both of these options would undoubtedly be the best options for Marc, but not the best for the Grizzlies. The best option for the Grizzlies would be to trade Marc to whatever team could give them the best draft pick next year. However, that PROBABLY wouldn’t be a team that would be close to winning an NBA title.
Most of the time professional sports is a cold hard business. Check your feelings at the door, and don’t take it personal. Franchises are about winning and entertaining, which isn’t always the same thing. If you can do either, you are valuable. Every now an then, though, a player transcends this. The player, for various reasons, is more than an asset. More than a commodity to be auctioned off whenever it fits the needs of the franchise. Every so often the fans think of the player and the team in the same breath. I’m not sure Marc is that, but I do think the fans would not feel bad if the Grizzlies took a hit to make Marc happy.
In the end, most likely Marc will be playing for another team next season. Oh he could just accept his player option, play the last year and then and decide to either sign with another team, finish his career as a Grizzly, or go back to Spain to play. Maybe in the end Marc loves Memphis as much as we love him, and that’s how this ends. If not, if he ends up on the Lakers or Celtics I don’t blame him. We’ll still love him. For the Grizzlies the best we can hope is that somehow there is a way where everyone can get what they want, but don’t hold your breath.