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Marc Gasol and the long way home in Memphis

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Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

There was a time when Memphis was the home of Marc Gasol. And in a way, it always will be.

Immortality within the Grizzlies organization awaits for Marc. As Tony Allen and Zach Randolph become the first two Grit and Grind cornerstones to receive the honor of number retirement this season, Gasol and Mike Conley will join them in the years to come. And perhaps Marc has done enough to eventually become the first Grizzlies player to enter the hallowed halls of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame - the ultimate honor anyone who has ever laced up and played the game can receive. Time will tell in that regard - but there is no denying that with the trade of Marc Gasol to the Grizzlies from the Lakers that was announced last week, the man affectionately known as Big Spain is indeed heading home.

But it is Spain where he will be going. Not Memphis.

And it serves as a reminder for all that follow the Grizzlies that home for the organization - the place that Marc and his teammates built as a title contender years ago - is still very much under construction.

Memphis Grizzlies v Toronto Raptors Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

How fun would Marc Gasol running pick and pops with Ja Morant be? A freaking blast is the correct answer - and if you are looking for veteran leadership, look no further than arguably the best player to ever play for the franchise. His eye for the beautiful side of the game - the scheme of the rotation ahead defense, the extra pass to the better shot - would be a welcome line of sight for a team that is so young. As the sun set on his NBA career he could pass along all the hard-won wisdom he’s earned along the way to the next generation of the Memphis Grizzlies. It makes sense for all involved!

And yet...it doesn’t.

Because for Marc Gasol, enjoying the final flickers of his professional basketball flame matters more than being part of the rebuilding Memphis franchise. As well it should - athletes, in a way, die twice. They breathe their last as we all do at the end of our days on this earth, but they also say goodbye to their physical peak and bury what they see as their prime years at retirement. The body goes before the mind for the athlete. You believe in the deepest parts of your psyche - the same one that got you to the highest levels of your sport - that you can still compete at that level. But your physical skills deteriorate and deflate that reality.

Marc, it appears, understands that well. He values ending things on his terms it seems - where his life began, before his basketball life took off.

Instead of helping re-establish the place he helped make one of the NBA’s best franchises, he wants to be with his family and where he sees his next phase of life beginning. It was a long trip to this point - but he’s ready to go home.

And the Memphis Grizzlies made that possible for Marc. No, it wasn’t without positives for them - the additional 2nd round pick in 2024 is especially interesting as Memphis replenishes their draft capital cupboard. But the move, beyond helping the Los Angeles Lakers save money, makes sense for the Grizzlies as well even without the pick. It is further evidence that they take care of their own, prioritizing allowing one of their greatest players to end his career the way he wants as opposed to being the outcast on the bench behind shells of Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan. Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman and the front office owe Marc very little - while Gasol’s tenure did not end with sunshine and rainbows, he did get to go win a championship with the Toronto Raptors. They (technically former Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace, but most acknowledge that Kleiman was pulling the strings behind the scenes by this point if not sooner) prioritized getting Marc to a contender - as they did with Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz - and that could’ve been enough.

But they decided to step in and take on Marc’s contract (one that L.A. did not want to pay) and help move him along from the NBA. For Gasol doesn’t make sense for Memphis at this stage, either. Remove Steven Adams from the equation - should Marc take playing time from Xavier Tillman Sr. at this point of the Grizzlies rebuild? What about Jaren Jackson Jr.’s opportunity to potentially close games at the 5? Or seeing if Brandon Clarke can grow in to the role of a backup center? Given the weight of the legacy, Marc would not come here and sit on the bench. He would take a role from someone who could, in theory, help usher in the next great era of Grizzlies basketball. And Gasol doesn’t want that, you’d imagine.

More importantly, the Grizzlies franchise doesn’t want that either.

Indiana Pacers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The posting of the tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski allowed for both beloved memories and brief flashes of a fantastical merger of the past and present to flood the minds of Grizzlies fans. But after the intoxicating moment passed, the reality of the situation returns. Marc Gasol of Memphis no longer fits the vision of his Grizzlies. And the Memphis Grizzlies organization is not at a state that would be attractive to Gasol for the end of his on-court basketball life. But instead of disappointment, look to joy. For this can be a reminder of more than just athletic mortality and the end.

It can serve as a brief glimpse in to what was - and what can be. It allows for a beloved son of Memphis to walk away his way - something so many athletes do not get the chance to do. It shows that the Grizzlies front office prioritizes doing right by those that choose Memphis - evidence of such actions are valuable when the young (and soon to be eligible for re-signing) eyes of stars like Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, and players that aren’t even Grizzlies yet are watching that may one day come to Memphis via trade.

Just like Marc did. And it helps both sides get closer to where they, and we all, want to eventually arrive.

Home.

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