This is not a column on why the Memphis Grizzlies should trade Marc Gasol.
There have been plenty of pieces over the last year dealing with that subject, and it truly is not something worth rehashing. For better or for worse, it will not happen. At the very least, he will be here until the end of the year.
However, it is not obviously clear whether that is a positive thing for Marc Gasol himself.
Forget about winning championships for a second. Forget about basketball entirely. Let’s focus on Marc Gasol the person.
Now allow me to paint you a picture.
I want you to imagine that you are an incredible athlete, a person whose talent and skill has allowed him/her to reach the most towering heights of their profession. As part of that profession, you have the opportunity to represent your home city.
And man, do you represent your city well.
Because of your talents and your abilities, you help lead your city—and remember, it is your city—to greater success than it has ever known. Your every drop of blood, every ounce of sweat, and every tear you shed are all given in the goal of bringing home something that you so desperately believe your city deserves.
Of course, you are never quite able to accomplish that goal, yet it doesn’t really seem to matter. The people of your city do not care about what you didn’t do, but rather about what you did bring them. They remember all of the memories, the ones of bliss, agony and everything else between them. They are thankful for all that you have done for them. And to be sure, they love you almost as if you are a member of their family.
You are family.
As the years go by, however, you start to notice that something is different.
For starters, you begin to realize that you just simply aren’t as quick or athletic as you used to be. Your younger opponents who were clearly at one time your inferiors are now slowly becoming better than you. Also, the team, that same team that has brought your city consistent joy and incredible memories since you’ve been there, is no longer performing at the same excellent level that it once did.
Soon, almost like a failing marriage, the relationship between you and your city begins to grow as cold as winter. Where there was once love and passion, the people of your city now possess a growing resentment and an inexorable apathy towards you. As crazy as it sounds, some of them believe that you are the problem.
Obviously, you begin to wonder if you should even stay at all. You almost feel like Will Smith in one of the most emotional episodes of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
How come they don’t want me anymore, man?
Such is the life of Marc Gasol with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018. As he declines, the frustration that the city of Memphis has with him only seems to grow.
And make no mistake about it: Marc Gasol has definitely declined. The only debate is by how much. But with the way his numbers, especially his shooting, have trended over the last two years, the decline could be drastic.
Over the course of his career, Gasol has shot 45% from 3-10 feet and 42% from the 10-16 foot range. During last year’s hopeless season, he shot 35% from the 3-10 feet area and 36% from the 10-16 area, both of which were career lows. Of course, those numbers could just be reflective of him having to carry the dead weight of an incompetent basketball team. Unfortunately, this season has painted an even more dire picture.
In an admittedly small sample size of four games, Gasol is currently shooting 23% and 0% from both of those respective areas on the floor. He is also shooting a putrid 35% from the field in general, which appears even worse considering he shot 27% over four games in the preseason.
If a stat sheet that looks like a bloodbath isn’t enough to convince you, then the eye test should. He obviously cannot do many of things at which he used to excel. He can no longer protect the rim at an above-average level, the most important attribute that allowed him to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. His increasing lack of foot speed and quickness almost makes him unplayable at times against teams with athletic bigs and guards who thrive in the pick-and-roll. He continually misses hook shots and fadeaways that he always made with consistency.
It is made all the more painful because we remember how great Marc Gasol once was—and on a few rare occasions, such as against the Utah Jazz earlier this week, still can be. We can still see glimmers and flashes of the player who has a legitimate case to be the greatest in the history of the franchise.
Although it is not fair, perhaps that is why many people in Memphis now regard him with derision even after he plays just one bad game. He now serves as a continual reminder of the memorable success that the Memphis Grizzlies were able to achieve in the past. Yet he also symbolizes the franchise’s stubborn refusal to let go of the past.
And because the Grizzlies front office did not move on or build a better team, they have created a situation where the fans of the team desperately demand that their old legend play at the same level that he once did, even though they know deep down that he isn’t quite capable of it anymore.
This all remind me of a somber, melancholic poem by A.E. Housman, one of the greatest English poets. In “To an Athlete Dying Young”, Housman reflects on how it would be better for a mythic athlete to vanish while in the prime of their lives rather than live with the shame of knowing that their legend had entirely faded.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
Maybe it would be better for Gasol to finish his career some place else rather than allow the people of Memphis to bitterly watch the last flashes of his legend fade.
I do love Marc Gasol for everything that he has done for Memphis. As both a player and a person, he has been incredible. And that is why I want him to move on so that he can possibly win a championship. He deserves to enjoy his twilight years in the NBA.
Instead, he remains here, continuing to carry the weight of both the present and uncertain future of the Memphis Grizzlies on his shoulders, as his relationship with the people of Memphis has the potential to become toxic as it almost did at one point last year.
Let’s hope that does not happen. If everything falls into place, the Memphis Grizzlies can still have a successful season and make the playoffs. Winning does cure everything.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Marc Gasol deserves better than the hand he has been dealt.