Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Face of Failure

The beginning of the end of Pau Gasol’s tenure as a Memphis Grizzlies came during the 2006 playoffs. With the Grizzlies feeling the weight of an 0-10 playoff record, the Grizzlies went toe to toe with the Dallas Mavericks inside the FedEx Forum for 53 minutes. The defining moment came when Pau Gasol stepped to the free throw line and actually double clutched a free throw. To me it seemed like he was shook. From then until now, Pau Gasol’s heart has not been in Memphis and the majority of the fans in Memphis have had very little love for the talented Spanish 7 footer.

When Pau came back from the World Championships injured and demanding a trade, the relationship between him and the fans became even more strained. Gasol took the beating for most of the ills of the organization on and off the court. Heck, I am shocked he wasn’t blamed for the Grizzlies not winning the NBA draft lottery. Pau and his game has become symbolic for everything that was wrong with the team: poor rebounding, poor defensively, and relatively soft. He became the ugly face of the franchise.

After his performance against the Hornets in front of the home crowd, I hope that Chris Wallace is actively exploring trading Gasol. If Gasol is on the team after the trade deadline and the Grizzlies continue to lose, the damage to the psyche of the Grizzlies fan base might be beyond repair. At some point, the Grizzlies have to at least try to do something different.

In New York or Chicago, it might be OK to be the highest paid player and just be a cog in the machine. In fact, it might not be such a problem in Memphis except Pau has been here his entire career. Sort of like Rasheed Wallace in Detroit, it really didn’t matter that he made more money than Ben Wallace and Chauncey because they had already established themselves as the leaders of the Pistons and the faces of the franchise. However, expectations in Portland were different for Sheed. I think the same can happen for Gasol in another city. I just don’t think he can handle the pressure and responsibility that comes along with being The Man.
This is not to say that Pau Gasol is to blame for the problems of the Memphis Grizzlies. He is just symbolic of that failure. As the face of the franchise, he stands a 7 foot reminder of all the frustrations of the sub 30 win seasons and the 0-12 playoff record. Only the impossible could lift Gasol's burden. This team simply does not have the talent to compete at a level that would deflect criticism from Gasol. It was that way when he was drafted and has remained that way throughout the bulk of his Memphis career. I expect that burden has started to make the bumps and bruises he routinely played through just a little more unbearable.

For added proof , New Orleans post game marked the first time in Pau’s entire Memphis career that he used an injury to explain away a poor performance. Gasol has played through countless injuries in Memphis, some much more serious than his jammed toe. However, this crutch and his denial of boos aimed at him are signs that the situation in Memphis is about to come to a head.

Another problem that Marc Iavaroni and Chris Wallace should keep their eye on is the terrible body language on the court. Especially the body language of Rudy Gay, who seemed to be totally disgusted with the play of the team as a whole and the mounting losses. I know all players get frustrated with losing but the way the Grizzlies are losing has to be extra frustrating. Getting pimped slap on your home court is one thing; having Chris Paul stay in the game just so he can score 40 points is another. How the hell do you not put him on his back when he drives to the hole specifically to pad his stats on your home court?

Iavaroni and Damon Stoudamire can harp on toughness all they want but like I said 5 games into the season, you have to change the culture of this team through personnel moves. The most significant move that can be made is to move Gasol. Moving Gasol sends a statement that the Grizzlies are changing directions. Six weeks later my words are still fitting:

I just wonder how much longer Iavaroni and Wallace are going to try and sell us this pig in a poke. Nobody in Memphis believes that Gasol is taking this organization anywhere but the NBA draft lottery. For them to keep giving lip service to the contrary makes them seem dishonest at best and incompetent at worst. I have yet to find a single Grizzlies fan in Memphis that thinks Gasol lead us to any significant success in the NBA. I just wonder if the Grizzlies brain trust is going to let this organization flop and flounder without direction on into next offseason and then attempt to make moves. Does Chris Wallace have the balls to move Gasol sooner rather than later? We will see…


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