Everybody's got a price- "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase
In Memphis, Tennessee, Grizzlies truly are becoming legends.
Players such as Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are coveted for the events of the past, or the character they embody, seen as the main reason for the success of the past four seasons of the Memphis Grizzlies. This is true to an extent, of course; TA and Z-Bo were, and to an extent still are, huge forces in the Grizzly movement. Certainly, there are many Grizzlies fans who came on board due to this "Grit and Grind" Era -- some folks arriving late to the party but still heavily emotionally invested in the successes and failures of the Bears of Beale Street.
Despite all of this love that fans feel for Zach and Tony, there are rational limits to their monetary value. Allen's contract extension was debated and, while likely a bit high for a defensive specialist, mostly accepted by Grizzlies fans as a bit of a back-payment makeup. Randolph's value was projected from most at about 3 years, $33-$36 million, which is roughly where the front office and Z-Bo came to agreement.
Even in trades, the Front Office in Memphis shows a deep understanding of value around the league. Trading for Courtney Lee raised some eyebrows at the time as a potentially steep deal to take on. After the Free Agency splurge of this past summer, however, he now looks like a bargain. Contract after contract, move after move, regardless of who is negotiating, the Grizzlies Front Office appears to have their fingers on the pulse of value, whether for role players or franchise icons.
This is a good track record to have, because the next deal up is a doozy, and quite possibly the biggest decision in the history of the franchise. Marc Gasol, certainly one of and arguably the best big man in the NBA, is up for a new deal. When you think of the Memphis Grizzlies and their schemes on both sides of the floor, he is the cornerstone. High post offense on the elbow, quarterbacking the defense, Gasol is indeed the straw that stirs the drink for the Grizzlies. His presence makes Memphis better. The Grizzlies were 40-19 in games with him last season, and 10-13 without him; his importance was never more clear than it was while "Wendigo" was out with injury.
He also appears to be as prepared as you can be for the NBA season. His performance in the FIBA World Cup is evidence of that.
So, it's a no brainer, right? Marc Gasol should be paid, and paid whatever is necessary to keep him?
It's not that simple.
Chris Herrington of the Commercial Appeal did a great job breaking down the numbers of the deal in an article last month. Gasol's deal could cost Memphis anywhere between $54.6 million over 3 seasons if he signs an extension with Memphis at any point starting December 12th through June 30th, 2015 and almost $108 million over 5 seasons if he goes into free agency. If he were to sign with another team (gags), he could make almost $30 million more over 4 seasons than he could by just signing a 3-year extension with Memphis without a free agency run.
Add all of this great Herrington information in with the fact that Marc Gasol is, by all accounts, in the best shape of his life, and this has the look of Marc Gasol looking to see what his value monetarily really is...not just to Memphis, but to New York, and Los Angeles, and to other cities in the NBA willing to throw their hats into the ring for the versatile big man. This in no way makes Marc Gasol wrong, or a bad guy; the NBA is a business. If the right trade came along (a realistic one is hard to envision) Marc Gasol would be shipped out. He is well within his rights to explore his options. Hell, he owes it to himself and his family to do so.
However, that does not mean Memphis needs to answer the call to overpay Gasol.
Yes, it is possible to overpay Marc Gasol. As skilled and impressive as Marc is, he is not LeBron James. He is not Kevin Durant, or Dwight Howard or any other superstar who can score in bunches, or take over and dominate a game by himself on both sides of the court night in and night out. He cannot, and has shown a tendency to not want to, take over a game offensively in particular. In his GBB player preview (by Austin Reynolds here) he is realistically predicted to score 16 points and grab 8 rebounds on 3.7 assists a game. Throw in 1.5 blocks a game and honestly think; are those 5 year max numbers?
He is a consummate teammate, a terrific facilitator, a tenacious defender, and the most uniquely talented big man in the NBA. Is that worth 3 years, $54.6 miillion? Absolutely. 5 years, almost $108 million? This is where uncertainty should begin to creep in.
Memphis is, and likely will continue to be, a small-market franchise. The larger the individual contract, the more cap space invested in one player, the weaker the rest of the roster will almost undoubtedly be due to a lack of resources. Marc Gasol knows this, of course. The extension option would give him security from potential injury while allowing for Memphis to continue to field a truly competitive team and even improve as this "Grit and Grind" era slowly closes. 2015 free agency cap space can be used to try to obtain the services of a Kawhi Leonard or a Jimmy Butler, a starring wing to fill a big need. The "window" could remain open.
If Gasol waits for the 4 year option and about $30 million more elsewhere, eventually re-signing for the max in Memphis? The future is hindered to a degree. On a grander scale, what if Gasol leaves for the bright lights of New York or Los Angeles? The Grizzlies' landscape would forever be altered: even more cap space to work with, a change in scheme alongside almost certain roster changes.
It would likely mean a re-signing of Kosta Koufos to be the center of the future to a more cap-friendly deal (3 years $14-17 million comes to mind), who at the age of 26 would come cheaper and with more youth. Of course, Koufos is not the player that Gasol is, but he would not have to be, depending on the moves made in the wake of the Gasol departure. While this would mean more dependence on an aging Zach Randolph, Kosta's game has shown the capacity for growth and flexibility, as he's played in two of the most extreme offenses in the NBA when it comes to pace.
That trade with Denver may become even more important as 2015-2016 begins.
Losing Marc would hurt scheme, but there would be the possibility of a potential investment in two starting caliber wings (Butler and Rudy Gay? Wesley Matthews?) Dave Joerger's scheme (Joergerball) would almost certainly see an increase in tempo with Gasol moving on, and a wing-centric offense would better mirror where the NBA is most assuredly heading (and most would argue is already at). Kosta Koufos is a decent-to-good rim defender, and the increased offensive chances would likely mean more scoring and an even bigger role for Mike Conley moving forward.
The biggest piece of positivity: if Gasol walks, that money could be allocated over multiple players instead of just the one. This could result in a balanced starting 5 led by Conley and whichever wings can be brought in. Signing Gasol for the 5-year max would eliminate that for the immediate future, directly affecting the Z-Bo/TA window.
The changing television contracts will surely allow for more cap breath-ability, but keep in mind that Memphis will always be pressed underneath that luxury tax threshold, and perhaps lower. There is a ceiling, not of glass but of steel. The thing may dent, but it isn't breaking. Is it wise to put so much money into Marc if Gasol does not sign an extension? That many years into a big man who has had injury issues multiple times in the past few seasons? Who will be 30 by the end of the 2015?
It is indeed possible that letting Marc Gasol go if he forgoes his option to sign an extension could be OK.
If an extension is on the table for Marc for 3 years, $54.6 million, the Grizzlies have to take that deal. He is a tremendous basketball player and in the most unique of ways epitomizes the Grizzlies and Memphis itself, a transplant whose blood runs Memphis Blue.
However, every good negotiator has to go to the table having a number in the back of their mind, a number they just simply cannot go over. The Memphis Grizzlies would not fold without Marc Gasol. They have pieces in place and could add to the current roster, they could stay competitive in a Marc-less world. It would be a blow to the team, but Memphis would endure.
Even in the case of Marc Gasol, there is a price that cannot be exceeded. If an extension falls through, nervous Grizzlies fans will be fretting over the future, the (albeit slim) possibility that the cornerstone of the entire franchise could be gone. Not the aging Zach Randolph, not the limited specialist Tony Allen, but Wendigo himself.
Memphis loves its legends, but at what cost? Turns out it may be Gasol, not Randolph or Allen, who tests that limit and finds out once and for all.
And when he does, regardless of which way the decisions go, somewhere "The Million Dollar Man" will be laughing.