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All Eyes on Marc: Marc Gasol Free Agency Primer

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As free agency approaches, let's not kid ourselves: Marc Gasol is THE priority for the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason. When do things officially get started? When can Marc end our nightmare and sign on the dotted line? Who could possibly fill his shoes if he walks, and where may he walk to?

Marc Gasol has a pretty big decision to make...
Marc Gasol has a pretty big decision to make...
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The time has finally come.

Free agency officially gets underway this week on July 1st, and across the country, various NBA cities are contemplating the futures of their franchises. A variety of men, from the role player to the superstar, become officially available to the 30 NBA teams to woo and try to lure to their cities. Every team has needs, and a budget to try to satisfy those needs within. Whether it be the potential to bring in a franchise-saving player with a max contract, or just the mid-level exception of roughly $5.45 million for those teams over the salary cap but below the luxury tax, issues will be resolved after a few flights, a few meetings over a few steaks, and a few strokes of a pen.

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In Memphis, there are things that must be addressed via free agency. Another shooter perhaps, or a creative wing who can get to the basket and free throw line, or a back-up big...

Ah hell, who are we kidding, it's Marc Gasol.

Marc Gasol, the First Team All-NBA Center who started for the Western Conference in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Marc Gasol, Memphis' own, who came to this city with big brother Pau and his family almost half a lifetime ago, who has made the Bluff City his second home. Marc Gasol, who had a career year this past season and proved this writer wrong when I questioned whether or not he was worth a max contract.

Marc Gasol Profile | PointAfter

Now in fairness to me, the Marc Gasol now before us did not exist this time last year. He had shown flashes of this level of dominance on both ends of the floor, but it wasn't anywhere near as consistent as he was this past campaign. He was the absolute best of the Grizzlies, and represented the franchise well everywhere he went. He has built himself up to the point of being the best (outside of LeBron James, but c'mon he's not really a free agent) unrestricted free agent option on the market.

Better than LaMarcus Aldridge. Better than Kevin Love. Better than DeAndre Jordan or Brook Lopez. It is Marc Gasol with a bullet. Not bad for a former second-round pick and trade afterthought.

While the Grizzlies can finally (officially) contact Marc Gasol and his agent Arn Tellum regarding a contract offer at midnight on July 1st (and General Manager Chris Wallace had better have Gasol's number dialed in at 11:59), Gasol cannot officially sign a contract until July 8th. This is due to the NBA's "moratorium period" which allows for players to negotiate new deals but not to sign them until the league and Player's Association determine what the new salary cap will be. Gasol will almost certainly field other offers during at least some of this time, maybe even take a recruiting trip or two.

Marc Gasol is the best (true) unrestricted free agent in the NBA. What an amazing journey...that will hopefully end in Memphis.

This is somewhat irrelevant to the Grizzlies; they cannot control these visits, but they can control their offer and pitch. Memphis can, and probably will, offer Marc the full max contract of 5 years, $109 million. The closest any other team can come is 4 years and about $80 million. So, if money is the motivation, Gasol would stay in Memphis. It is possible that Marc pursues a short-term deal to take full advantage of the new salary cap, thus making much more money down the road...but that is a significant bet on health, and for Marc, it isn't just about the money specifically.

It's about fit, about scheme, about playing basketball, as he puts it, "the right way". Marc has talked about his history in Memphis, and it is still believed that Marc will remain here, but...there will be other suitors.

Who, you may ask? The following teams will likely make a call.

The Los Angeles Lakers

Apparently Marc isn't interested. Gotta love when Memphis is more desirable to somebody than LA. Sorry Lakers. Moving on...

The New York Knicks

Why Memphis Should Worry-

Playing in the biggest media market in the world would expose Gasol to all sorts of new marketing opportunities, and playing alongside Carmelo Anthony would alleviate some of the scoring pressure that Marc surely feels here in Memphis. Phil Jackson has won championships, the triangle offense (in theory) could allow for Marc to create for teammates in different ways, and he would be competing in the weaker Eastern Conference.

Why the Grizzlies are the Better Option-

Have you seen the Knicks lately? I hate Porzingis, just kidding he's great, Carmelo can't win the big one, Phil's just collecting a check, oh and by the way, they were awful last year. Historically bad for their franchise. So what if Marc's boy Jose Calderon is there? Mike Conley is Gasol's boy as well, and together they have made the playoffs in the much tougher Western Conference five straight seasons. Plus, it's much colder in New York than in Memphis. Not a real threat.

ADVANTAGE: MEMPHIS

11:07 AM CT Update- Never mind, even the Knicks know they don't have a shot.

The Boston Celtics

Why Memphis Should Worry-

Boston is a town of winners, and historically the Boston Celtics are one of the winningest franchises in the NBA. They boast a developing roster of solid young pieces and one of the brightest young coaches in the NBA in Brad Stevens. His schemes would fit Gasol like a glove; an offense based on ball movement and a defense with multiple solid wing defenders who could effectively funnel all drives into Marc in the lane. If Gasol jumped to the Eastern Conference, the Celtics make more sense than anyone outside of Cleveland or Chicago.

Why the Grizzlies are the Better Option-

Boston is likely at least a year away from being a true threat to King James and his kingdom, even with Gasol on the roster. They still could use a good-to-great scorer and more experience, which only comes with time when developing a young team. Gasol's eventual success in Boston would also mean it would come at the expense of his brother Pau's in Chicago. Pau is on the last legs of his career, and unless it is to play with Pau, it is doubtful Marc wants to play any role in keeping his brother from another championship, unless it is in an unavoidable NBA Finals with Memphis taking on Chicago. Consider this a "Manning brother" situation benefiting Memphis. Plus, it is even colder in Boston than it is in New York.

ADVANTAGE: MEMPHIS

The San Antonio Spurs

Why Memphis Should Worry-

The nightmare scenario. Our own Matt Hrdlicka outlined why this would be horrifying (and unlikely) in this great article from earlier in the year, and the potential for this still exists if the Spurs make the moves Matt suggests. Gasol would be going to one of the top franchises in the NBA to play alongside future Hall of Famers, and would extend their championship contender window considerably. Also, if you want to play basketball "the right way", playing for Gregg Popovich is a good way to do it. Also, not having a state income tax in Texas helps with that "one year less/less money" in the contract thing.

Of course you could argue that final point for both Houston and Dallas as well, who will both have money to spend and could potentially kick the tires on Gasol. But those two teams are essentially the Grizzlies - Western Conference top-four seed contenders. Why leave Memphis (which, being in Tennessee, also does not have a state income tax) for that? The Spurs make sense because of their structure and history.

Why the Grizzlies are the Better Option-

This is a bit harder than it was for the Eastern Conference clubs. The Spurs are the team that most teams, including the Grizzlies, attempt to model themselves after. They are the measuring stick in the Western Conference. If not for the cruel twist of fate leading to their epic series with the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, it may well have been them and not the Rockets playing the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

A major sticking point against the Spurs? Age - Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are both approaching retirement, and Tony Parker is coming close to beginning a downturn in his skills at the age of 33. Even with Kawhi Leonard likely re-signing as a restricted free agent, that limits their title window as constructed to one year, two tops. Meanwhile, Mike Conley is in his prime and will fully be in it when Memphis resets post-Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. As the salary cap rises, they will have space to bring in another star player.

As crazy as it sounds, you could argue Memphis' long-term title window with Marc and Conley as the cornerstones may be more appealing than that of San Antonio.

ADVANTAGE: MEMPHIS (but it's close.)

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But What if Marc Leaves?

(Shivers)

It's possible. And if he does go, there will be options for the Grizzlies to try to stay afloat in the loaded Western Conference.

Before we get started, understand - LaMarcus Aldridge isn't walking through that door. Neither is DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Love, or any other player seriously considering a bigger market. Just not happening. The following are more realistic options who, while not as good as Marc, at least help Memphis stay alive in the deadly Western Conference.

1. Kosta Koufos

You'd be hard pressed to find a better immediate cost-effective replacement. Koufos knows the Grizzlies' schemes, is familiar with the personnel after playing in Memphis for the past two seasons, and while he is due for a raise, he shouldn't break the bank. Potentially signing Koufos to a 3-year $20 million deal, for example, would more than double his yearly salary and put him in position to start, which is what he appears to be looking for. It also would leave about $10 million or so to sign another player to offset the loss of Gasol - a Khris Middleton, Danny Green, or DeMarre Carroll, perhaps - while pursuing trades of a wing like Jeff Green to try to get a draft pick and/or back-up big back in return.

2. Robin Lopez

If Kosta isn't interested in sticking around, R-Lo wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. A similar deal to Koufos is possible here, and Lopez is a fantastic defensive center. He is awesome offensively on the pick-and-roll, but other than that he is limited, so this places more pressure on Mike Conley and Zach Randolph to deliver, but remember, another scoring wing could be brought in in this spot potentially. Nowhere near as good as Marc Gasol, but Lopez keeps the Grizzlies relevant in the West.

3. Trade for Roy Hibbert

(Ducks)

Hear me out here. He clearly is not wanted in Indiana. He is still one of the biggest players in the NBA and has been taught well with regard to the art of verticality. Yes, he is not as appealing as he once was, and yes this trade would potentially backfire. However, imagine if you would that the Indiana Pacers agree to something along the lines of the following deal-

Hibbert Deal

The Grizzlies and Pacers exchange unwanted players; Memphis even without Gasol has personnel designed for a slower pace while the Pacers want to play faster. Memphis gets Hibbert in the last year of his deal and hopes that he is motivated, while the Pacers get Jeff Green to pick up the pace and Vince Carter to help mentor a younger team.

Not a perfect fit/fix, and you could certainly fit different pieces in different trades. But Hibbert more than likely allows for schemes to stay similar to what Gasol brought, and if he doesn't work out he is gone the next year as the cap jumps up to record levels. Sign a new big then.

Other potential options include Tyson Chandler (kind of old but then again so is Memphis), Brandan Wright (unproven to be a starting center but talented), and Omer Asik (good defender but offensive liability at this point in his career).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Thankfully none of the above scenarios will likely have to play out. Marc Gasol probably will remain a Grizzly. His family is here, both literal and his NBA family. He can make the most money in Memphis, and find much needed stability for a big man with a bit of an injury history and a young family to care for.

Make no mistake, however, he is but the first domino to fall in Memphis' free agency. Kosta Koufos will be called to weigh interest in staying in Memphis, and other back-up bigs who could fit in to the mid-level exception will certainly be contacted. Until Marc makes his choice, however, what this team's next move will be is irrelevant.

All eyes are on Marc. Here's to hoping we get to see him in Memphis for many years to come.

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