Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Go Ahead...Request a Trade

Let me take you back to January of this year. That was when Pau Gasol allegedly demanded a trade to a "better" team. Why would I bring this up, you ask? Well, given the recent spate of trade requests and other player demands, I thought we'd take a look back at how Gasol's request was received and also how it was made, in comparison to those made by others.

Pau was fresh off recovering from a broken foot -- an injury sustained during the World Championships -- and had come back to a team in complete dissarray. Head coach Mike Fratello was fired, head of the scouting department Tony Barone, Sr. was given the task of directing the team and the team was beset by multiple injuries. So when Gasol held a closed-door meeting with owner Michael Heisley to talk about his concerns regarding the direction of the team, especially in light of the fact that the team was in limbo due to a pending sale that fell apart, leaving Jerry West with little to do with his time other than dream about spending his days in a quiet cabin in West Virginia, it didn't appear to be a hasty decision. This is especially true given that the team had been remade twice in a short time period, first adding veterans following the first playoff sweep, then bringing in a lot of youth after the third straight first round playoff sweep. That included trading away the face of the franchise, Shane Battier, a glue guy whose leadership was greatly missed during the difficult start to the season. It seems to me that Gasol's questions didn't result in the answers he expected, leading him to request a trade to a more stable team with a better chance of winning. Then this request was leaked to the media -- by whom we do not know for sure, although it has been attributed to both Heisley and Gasol's agent -- leading to an uproar among the Grizzlies' fans and hopeful dreams by every other team's fans, especially fans of the Bulls. Gasol was labeled a quitter who couldn't hack it when the going got tough, a soft, pampered baby who whines too much and was accused of giving less than maximum effort on the court. In short, he was called the Spanish Vince Carter. But those labels weren't true, especially the last one, as Gasol averaged career highs in points, rebounds, blocked shots, FG% and FT%. Last time I checked, players don't average 20 and 10 (20.8 and 9.9 to be exact) by not trying -- but maybe that's just me. Gasol didn't pack it in for the season or become a detriment to the team in any fashion. He showed up, did his job and didn't say another word about the trade request, except in answering questions about it. That's what a team player does.

Let's contrast that with what other players have done in recent months.

After succeeding in getting Shaq traded to the Eastern Conference, Kobe Bryant was The Man for the Los Angeles Lakers. Finally, it was his show and he was going to be the brightest star. Now, a scant three seasons later, he comes out and tells owner Jerry Buss to go rehire Jerry West, to find a way to bring in more talent to surround him with and then to trade him to a team with a chance of winning. In other words, turn the clock back a decade to when Kobe was the "young fella" and Shaq was the "Big Fella" and they were on the verge of winning titles? Is that what you want Black Mamba? Kobe made his bed and now he has to lie down in it. Kobe made his trade demand in a most public way, while on ESPN Radio in NYC. He put the Lakers organization in an awkward position, especially in light of how little superstar players usually bring back in recent history (see: Shaq, Garnett, Iverson). He hasn't been traded yet, but he hasn't rescinded the request either.

Speaking of Allen Iverson, how about we cover his story? He spent 10 seasons in Philadelphia, going through coaches and teammates like Pacman Jones goes through second chances. In December 2006, he demanded a trade with Minnesota and Boston being his preferred destinations. Philadelphia immediately agreed to ship him out, placing him on the bench for the remainder of his time with the team and trading him to Denver 11 days later. This followed several conflicts between Iverson and team management, including him missing mandatory events that resulted in fines. Again, a superstar player put his organization in a position of weakness by making his displeasure a very public event. It is very interesting that the Sixers played much, much better after the trade than they had done with AI on the squad.

Following his MVP performance in the FIBA European Basketball Championship, Russian star Andrei Kirilenko conducted an interview where he expressed his extreme displeasure with Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, his method of motivating his players, his system and Kirilenko's status on the team, having been relegated to 3rd fiddle with the emergence of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams last year. AK-47 made several comments that bordered on the outrageous, including saying that he would be willing to void out his max-level contract so that he could play for another team or even go back overseas to play in Russia. While I agree that Kirilenko's talents would be better utilized in a different system, he signed a massive contract to play for the Utah Jazz who employed Jerry Sloan at that time. What has changed in two years? Kirilenko made the headlines with his tirade, leading many to speculate that he would actually follow through with his threats. Not many guys walk away from $63 million guaranteed, no matter how unhappy they might be, so I doubt Andrei will either. Yet again, a very public demand that lessens the player's return value and hurts his current team.

Finally, we come to Shawn Marion, the athletic freak of nature who has decided that he'd rather play for someone else than to remain with the Phoenix Suns. He has complained that he doesn't receive the amount of respect he feels he deserves, sulked about his status as the 3rd man on the totem pole and most recently whined about his lack of a contract extension -- even though he has two years remaining on his current deal. In short, he has been a petulant baby who will no longer be considered underrated because he complains about being underrated. That gets you kicked off the list, dontchaknow. Marion made his request today in the most -- you guessed it! -- public way possible, by phone interview with an Arizona paper, as noted by Zack in his post earlier today. That's right Matrix, go ahead and put your team (Top 3 in the NBA, by the way) squarely behind the 8-ball before training camp even starts.

So, in review, I see plenty of guys going out and running their mouths about how mistreated they are, even when they either create the situation themselves (Kobe, Iverson) or are in great situations and don't feel properly loved (Kirilenko, Marion). Then I see Gasol, quietly plugging along, having a career year, despite the fact that fans booed him after the trade request was leaked and the team had a Season from Hell. This post will probably come across as the rantings of a Grizzlies homer, but given the way other players are treating their teams these days, I'll gladly toot the horn of my hometown team.

1 comment:

Boyer. said...

Yes, I liked how Pau Gasol was booed and criticized for asking for a trade. That was amusing to me for a couple of reasons. One, it told me that the fans in Memphis were aware of what was going on with their team and they had passion for the Grizzlies.
Second, it told me that the fans in Memphis were not able to put themselves in Pau Gasol's shoes. This was the guy who was the mvp of the world championships. (a pretty big honor that clearly doesn't translate in the usa) Pau had an entire country in love with him (EspaƱa). So, if I was in pau's shoes I would have probably done the same thing. Pau was coming off an incredible high and he wanted more - I guess one could say that Pau is addicted to winning - go figure.
I am behind Pau all the way - for all those Memphis fans that wanted to call Pau soft last season - try calling Hakim Warrick and Stromile Swift soft - where the heck were they last season. (Yes, Hakim had a career year - but he didn't do it by playing defense - he took what he learned from Carmelo Anthony in the off-season, and Hakim did hit over 50% of his shots.)
Pau is the franchise, Pau can block shots, Pau can rebound, Pau can shoot 53.8% from the field and Pau can hit 74.8% of his free throws. But wait, don’t forget that Pau can pass.
For those of you on Pau's back - what more do you want from the guy???
Let me answer that question for you – a championship, a playoff win (or two).
Just wait – Pau is just now reaching his prime…