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Marc Gasol and the Man in the Glass

Marc Gasol is having one of the worst seasons of his career. While there are some extenuating circumstances leading to Gasol missing out on the All-Star Game after starting in it the year before, Part I of the Friday Three this week looks to one person to blame in particular- someone Gasol knows quite well.

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The Memphis Grizzlies, and the city of Memphis at large, loves Marc Gasol. They love him so much they make videos declaring him one of their own. They love him so immensely they talk, tweet, meme, and blog about him...they made him the center of the universe in the Mid-South this past Summer. They made it clear that he was the cornerstone, the franchise, the man to build the future of the Memphis Grizzlies upon and around, and the organization backed that up with a max contract offer. He is a part of Memphis, and he chose to stay after the best season of his career. It was a glorious, momentous moment.

Then, the 2015-2016 season started. And from the All-Star Game starting center to falling out of the game entirely, to an extent he has failed himself. And we have failed him. Because we haven't expected more.

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say...

He has the money, the influence, the prestige that comes with a max contract. It isn't just the financial stability; as Jonah Hill's character in the film "Moneyball" stated, it is about what it means. That you are worth it. That in the profession you have chosen, you are one of the absolute best in the world at doing it. The Marc Gasol that played in the NBA last season was more than worth it...

This year's version has failed to live up to those expectations. He is performing poorly in a variety of statistical categories-

Stat Number Worst Since
Offensive Efficiency 103 Career Low
Defensive Efficiency 104 2009-2010
Net Rating -1 Career Low
Win Shares Per 48 Minutes .100 Career Low
PER 17.4 2010-2011
Shooting % 45.3 Career Low

There has been a long, but distinguished, list of names that have been blamed for the failures of this season so far for the Grizzlies. Jeff Green, Dave Joerger, Chris Wallace, just to name a few. In a game like basketball, blame is to be shared among teammates and members of the organization alike. It isn't that easy, though when one player makes more money than everyone else.

The numbers, and your eyes, should not deceive you. The chain of blame starts with Marc Gasol.

...For it isn't your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass...

Has Marc shown flashes? Of course. Last night against the Milwaukee Bucks and the recent dominant performance against the New York Knicks come to mind as instances of Gasol being that "max player" that he was expected to be entering this season.

The anchor of the defense. The catalyst of the offense. The franchise player of an organization that needs him to be just that in order to be successful.

He comes along too inconsistently, though, at least this season. For every stretch of sustained offensive success (54.4% shooting in four games from January 16th-January 23rd) there has been runs of disastrous showings (26.3% shooting in four games from January 4th-January 11th). For every elbow jumper or rim run off of a pick and roll, there is an ill-advised one-legged fadeaway jumper. For every butt slap or shimmy shake of success there is a bobbled pass in a key moment, or a forced pass. His defensive impact has been negated some- teams no longer fear him as a rim defender as they once did. His teammates fail on an assignment, and he cannot save them as often as he has in the past. The footwork, the isn't there as often as it should be.

As it could be.

...He's the fellow to please - never mind all the rest
For he's with you, clear to the end
And you've passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend...

Is it entirely his fault? Of course not. Mike Conley's health continues to fail him and hurt his play, and losing the player you play best off of can hurt even the best in the world. Jeff Green, until recently, has been one of the reasons that Gasol's defensive abilities have been tested- his mistakes lead to easy opportunities elsewhere, and force Gasol to focus attention where it should not have to be. Dave Joerger continued to stand by Jeff Green, and start him, and either ignore or allow his defensive lapses without a public showing of disdain. Once he did, Green stepped up. That doesn't change the past, and the problems his failures defensively caused.

But Dave Joerger is not a max NBA basketball player. Mike Conley may be in a few months, but he is not that guy yet. Jeff Green will see a hefty payday outside of Memphis come the Summer of 2016, but it wont be a contract for the max amount of money. Marc Gasol should not be that impacted by the lack of a Conley or the inaction of a Green to the extent he may have been here. He must be able to adapt.

Marc Gasol, who has had praise and positive thinking heaped upon him for a long time, deservedly so, is that max guy for the Grizzlies. And as "the man" in Memphis, with the good should come the bad. When the times are good, the team is being led in the right direction by their newly financially confirmed captain. When they are bad? It is on him to take responsibility. To look to the man in the glass and find what must be done, starting with him, to right the ship. To take ownership of failure and grow. Serve. Lead.

...You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass.

Marc Gasol says the right things. He states his desire to play beautiful basketball, he plays the game in relentless pursuit of the "right play." He acknowledges that he must play better, at times be more aggressive, finding his shot at the expense of others. Action must be at the forefront. Gasol cannot be outdone by those below him. He cannot lose interest, he cannot fade, he cannot be defeated. He can look at every teammate, and coach, and media member and fan, and he can say these things...but he must back them up, otherwise he is cheating all those around him, and himself. There are signs that he is starting to do these things on and off the court for the Grizzlies, but make no mistake-

He was not snubbed for the All-Star Game.

He did not deserve to be selected.

He must be accountable. And it starts with the man in the glass.

He has been rewarded handsomely. He has been tasked with leading a franchise. To this point, he has fallen short of the lofty expectations set before him. And hopefully no one is more disappointed, or more determined to right the wrong, than the man Marc Gasol sees in the glass.

Poem Excerpts from "The Man in the Glass" by Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr.

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Check out the rest of this (and previous) week's Friday Three here.