After a surprisingly hot start to the season, things have cooled considerably in Memphis.
On Sunday night, in the midst of a putrid performance at home versus the Brooklyn Nets, Grizzlies coach David Fizdale sat star centre Marc Gasol with three minutes remaining in the third quarter and left him on the bench for the remainder of the 98-88 loss.
Gasol, a three-time all-star and two-time All-NBA team member, was none too pleased with the coach’s decision.
“Obviously, it’s a situation I’m not used to, and I don’t want to get used to — ever,” he told The Commercial Appeal. “At the end of the day … I hate not playing. That’s what I value most. I’m not on the floor, it means I’m not valued. I’m sure they knew that would hurt me the most. I’m sure they wouldn’t do it to Mike (Conley).”
The Grizzlies’ response? Memphis fired Fizdale, a coach who had won fans over with his famous “Take that for data!” rant during the 2017 playoffs. But there had been rumours of tension between Gasol and Fizdale dating back to last season and, when speaking to a Spanish news outlet this past summer, Gasol voiced his frustration over the team’s direction.
The Grizzlies are a team at a crossroads. They’re a veteran squad that should probably be in rebuilding mode, with enough talent to scrape into the playoffs but a limited ceiling. Gasol and Mike Conley are a strong duo, but there isn’t enough talent around them to make Memphis truly competitive in the West. Both are under hefty contracts that don’t expire until 2020, and Conley’s injury history (he’s currently out with a heel injury) could make it hard to rely on him to stay on the floor. Plus, there doesn’t appear to be a bright future on the horizon—aside from Canadian rookie standout Dillon Brooks, the team is devoid of any real noteworthy prospects.
Firing Fizdale may help calm Gasol, but it doesn’t necessarily do anything to address the Grizzlies’ big-picture problems.
That’s why Gasol’s name remains in discussion on the trade front, and the Toronto Raptors are one team that could be in the running to land the 32-year-old big man, according to a report from NBA insider Mitch Lawrence:
Among the teams that could make a move for Gasol are Toronto, Cleveland, Boston, and Portland. The Celtics and Cavaliers are seen as the class of the East, with Toronto a notch below. That could set up a potential bidding war that Memphis could use to its advantage in landing the best package for Gasol, 32, a former defensive player of the year.
Industry sources tell me that the Raptors are open to moving center Jonas Valanciunas and have young players the Grizz might be interested in pursuing, including Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira.
Part of the reasoning is the Raptors’ current log-jam at centre, where Valanciunas, Poeltl, Nogueira and Serge Ibaka (a natural centre) are all vying for minutes. Valanciunas, a former fifth overall pick, seems to be the odd man out, averaging a career-low 20 minutes per game and just 17.5 over the Raptors’ last five games.
Moving Valanciunas for another centre may not make the most sense, but Gasol is hardly just “another centre.” He’s a two-way force who fits the Raptors—and just about any NBA team’s—system nicely thanks to a versatile game built on a combination of smart passing, rugged post-play and a newly-discovered three-point shot. Gasol would be an obvious upgrade to the Raptors’ roster, instantly transforming the team into a bona fide contender in the East. He’s the missing veteran “third piece” Toronto has been looking for to line up alongside DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
But it’s hard to believe the Raptors would be able to offer the best trade package for the Grizzlies’ needs—moving Gasol would almost surely signal a reset in Memphis—but including a player like Poeltl, who has seriously impressed in his sophomore season and appears to have a very bright future, could be the rebuilding piece Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace could covet.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are reportedly ready to move on from Tristan Thompson and own the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick, are also rumoured to be in the running for Gasol. So are the Portland Trailblazers, although emerging centre Jusuf Nurkic may not be enough to get a deal done.
The Grizzlies get back to playing basketball on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs.