It was a daydream of dominance.
A mind wandering to Marc Gasol draining an elbow jumper in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The game was in Memphis, and it was a must-win for the Grizzlies as they were down 3-2 to LeBron James and company. The shot Gasol just hit in this scenario won the game for Memphis, and it came after the most dominant and important stretch of offense in Marc’s career. The Grizzlies were down eight with three minutes to go, and Gasol decided to take over. He attacked in the post and got to the free throw line, he made a three-point shot, and he converted that elbow jumper.
He scored the last 12 points for the Grizzlies.
In the post-game press conference, he and Mike Conley (their pick-and-roll game gave Cleveland fits) discussed the close of the game and Marc’s aggression. Marc would have this to say...
This team needs me to be aggressive, and I will be happy to put them on my back when necessary and get where we need to go. I saw that my team needed me, and I responded. I took over.
This is usually where the malaise breaks and refocusing on reality occurs, because this is the point where you remember this is all a fantasy. Beyond the unlikely Grizzlies Finals appearance, Marc Gasol would likely never say those words, complete that type of run of offensive aggression and shot-seeking, or look to be that type of leader.
This is simply not the Marc Gasol we know, and it is not the Marc Gasol he probably ever will be.
And it’s time to accept that.
Lots of folks have always said that Marc simply isn’t this kind of player, but that didn’t stop many (myself included) from daydreaming, and it didn’t stop Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale from hoping to get that type of leadership out of Gasol. Marc was named Team Captain by Fizdale last year, and while this was a real opportunity for Gasol to take greater ownership of the team, he shied away from that model of influence. When asked his opinion of things impacting the organization, like roster moves and lineups, Marc deflected, saying that isn’t his role.
But leadership often requires involvement in areas that aren’t part of the usual job description. And Fizdale wanted Marc to be a part of what he was trying to build. That certainly doesn’t mean that Fizdale has moved on from Marc - on the contrary, Fizdale’s visit with Gasol at Eurobasket shows that he clearly sees Marc as worthy of investment.
Memphis cuidando a su estrella. Marc Gasol conversando post partido ante Croacia con David Fizdale (coach Grizzlies) pic.twitter.com/dbEjnNLxKL— Pacojo (@PacojoSER) September 5, 2017
You don’t travel halfway around the world for a player who you’ve given up on. But Fizdale would be wise to let go of his dream of Marc being the aggressive on and off-court authority that he, and fans, wanted him to be. It isn’t in him. He will always look to what he thinks is the best “basketball play”, even if it means passing to a lesser player open in the corner when he has his own shot that he could take. He will almost always certainly prefer his role with Spain, deferring leadership and prominent roles to his brother Pau and Juan Carlos Navarro, to being a focal point for both in Memphis.
It’s part of what makes him great. And he is great. But it’s also part of what makes him expendable in the long run for the Grizzlies, or at least more so than Mike Conley.
Sure, Marc said that he would need to re-evaluate what his role is with the Grizzlies if things go south this season and the team struggles. But Memphis, and more importantly the front office, must be willing to do the same. A team like Cleveland, who now has a valuable 2018 first round pick from Brooklyn to send in a trade, could make a competitive offer for Marc’s services in January if the Grizzlies are destined for the NBA Lottery. Cleveland could get one of the best two-way bigs in the NBA, and Memphis could accelerate their rebuild with two 2018 lottery picks - Brooklyn’s, and their own.
A lot needs to go wrong for that to occur. The fact remains that if Memphis does struggle, and the time comes for a decision to be made, Marc makes more sense to move on from than Mike Conley. Age plays in to that, as does the current style of play in the NBA.
But Conley is seemingly willing to be the guy that Fizdale needs, the leader who takes over games and has his hands on the direction of the franchise. He is, or at least should be in the eyes of the organization, more valuable both as a player and leader than Gasol.
That’s just the way it is. And that is OK.
We’ve heard stories of Marc helping teammates, and he took less money in his last contract - these are examples of leadership. He wants to focus on the on-court product and being the best player he can be for the team, which of course is a form of leadership in and of itself. There’s real value in that.
But a time may well come where decisions need to be made. And like many veteran players before him, Marc may move on from a team he helped build in order to help prepare the franchise for its future. And if that happens, it will be OK.
For now, we must stop dreaming Marc Gasol dreams. The hopes of an NBA Finals run led by a dominant Wendigo performance were always unlikely. The Gasol who didn’t take a shot in the fourth quarter of the deciding Game Six against the Spurs last season was always more the truth. Marc remains one of the best players in the NBA, but he will never be “the man”. He never wanted it.
It’s time to let go.
It’s time instead to enjoy the ball bouncing off of his head after fouls, and the butt slaps, and the beautiful basketball he plays while we still can. Whether it’s by trade or at the hands of Father Time, a day will come where Marc isn’t a Grizzly anymore. Longing for someone who will never arrive takes away from what we really have - the greatest Grizzlies player to this point in the organization’s history. Why tarnish a legacy with daydreams of someone who never existed?
Dreams end. But that doesn’t make the reality not worth celebrating. With clear eyes and a better appreciation for what Marc is, rather than what he “should” be, Gasol’s last year(s) in Memphis will be that much sweeter.
It’s time to better appreciate what is, instead of longing for what you dream might be.