It wasn’t too long ago that a Gasol left Memphis.
The eldest Gasol brother, Pau, requested a trade out of the Bluff City as things started to deteriorate. It wasn’t entirely his fault - there were members in the fan base that turned on him, the team’s ownership and direction was in question, and multiple players were either injured or coming off of injury. The organization had a tough decision to make: trade your best player and head down the road of a rebuild, or keep him despite his wish to head out of town.
They chose to move on.
Fast forward a decade, and yet again a Gasol finds himself at a crossroads. This time it’s Marc looking down the barrel of an uncertain future as a fading star in an evolving NBA galaxy. Marc has struggled mightily at times this season, posting a career low 42.3% shooting and the lowest net rating of his career (-4). There are reasons for this, of course - Mike Conley has struggled when he has played, and he’s been out for weeks now. Those who remain are not good enough to fill that void, and Marc’s own basketball mortality is on display more than ever. It isn’t just that’s he’s now the focus of opposing defenses - he’s actually being doubled less than normal.
You might be tempted to say it's because of a lack of surrounding talent & Marc's getting doubled a lot. Not the case:— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) December 16, 2017
Marc's getting hard doubled at a rate about 15% LOWER than last season. His own offense when doubled was 1 PPP, 50% FG last year; .58 PPP, 15% FG this year.
It’s painfully simple. The third quarter of the Boston Celtics game aside, Marc simply has not been able to save these Grizzlies as well as perhaps he once could have done. But there’s more to this than who is playing alongside him, or missing a current member of the team due to injury. These Gasol issues are deeper - deeper than even those of his brother Pau.
The two brothers have their similarities, but they are also very different in one particular way. Where Pau did not develop a camaraderie among his Memphis teammates and the city itself, Marc has. Marc feels accountable to the city, the fan base...he had a large hand in building what is here.
The Grizzlies never won a playoff game with Pau. They won 29 with Marc, and his teammates with whom his connection was “bigger than sport”, according to Geoff Calkins and the Commercial Appeal.
And what was built by that core unit of Marc, Mike, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph was called into question by former Head Coach David Fizdale. Gasol did not take kindly to that. Fizdale has a future in the NBA, but hopefully he learned in Memphis to be a better salesman. The message that worked with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was never going to work with these Grizzlies, and especially not with Gasol. Marc needs a why. Marc knew what was done here was important to the city, and his teammates. He needed to be sold on why the changes were needed and how they would be executed.
Fizdale reportedly didn’t see the playoff streak as that impressive. He couldn’t convince Marc he was right. So he got frustrated, and frayed the relationship to the point that it couldn’t carry on. Then the organization and Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace inexplicably fired Fizdale the day after Marc very publicly addressed the tension that, until that time, had been largely playing out behind closed doors and off the record.
Their franchise player, cornerstone, and leader lost his basketball soulmate to injury, lost two beloved teammates to a youth movement he was not fully bought in to, and became the face of a decision to fire a coach who was respected and well-liked in many NBA circles, even though he did not request that decision to be made.
But through all this, Marc is the only Memphis Grizzlies player to play in and start every game this season. He lines up and works every night with starters who should be role players and role players who shouldn’t be on NBA rosters. He grinds, and he grits, as he did with his brothers Tony and Zach. He just cannot do it by himself.
He must feel very alone.
It’s tough to look your own athletic mortality in the eye as you age. It’s much harder to go through it without those you trust, and it surely must be infinitely harder to do it as publicly as Marc has. Yet Marc has decided to go the opposite route of Pau, at least for now. Gasol will not request a trade. He wants to fix what is broken, what he had a hand in breaking.
He’s taking ownership of his role in where the Grizzlies are. He’s holding himself accountable, having called for that meeting with local media like Calkins for over an hour to answers questions about tanking, Fizdale, and more. He’s answering tough questions, being honest and vulnerable while trying to take steps forward and surely quieting his mind. He may not be the leader David Fizdale wanted him to be, or that fans hoped he could be. But he’s displaying leadership of the realest, rawest kind.
He’s trying to give all he can. He said as much in his media meeting. And as the last man currently standing from the Core Four, he stares down not just his own uncertain future but that of what he and his brothers built. He is being asked to move on alone, and his meeting with the press is a step toward what hopefully can be a lightening of the load on his mind.
For Marc is not Pau. Marc is very much his own man. But even those among us who are the most steadfast and stubborn need people who we can love and trust. He has lost that, and now must find a way to be at peace with where he is and to decide what comes next. For now, it’s to stay the course and try to right the wrongs of the past year.
Grit and Grind is no more. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are not walking through that door. Regardless of wins or losses, the long term viability of this franchise hinges on Marc Gasol’s ability to move on.