Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Waiting for Gasol

The film aficionados among you will immediately recognize the movie poster above and probably get the reference instantaneously. For the rest of you, settle in while I explain.

Since his outstanding rookie season, Pau Gasol has been the center of attention in Memphis. He posted 17.8 ppg on .518 FG% and .709 FT% to go with 8.9 rpg, 2.7 apg and 2.1 bpg in his inaugural campaign. He went from a virtually unknown international player to the best player on a fledgling recently relocated NBA franchise. The Grizzlies organization did their part to make sure that Gasol and fellow rookie Shane Battier got plenty of exposure in a unique campaign for the Rookie of the Year award that Pau collected in a landslide vote. They even created a comic book for these two young players. The thought was that these two would be the foundation for a perennial playoff contender that could eventually become a legitimate championship team. The next year saw the addition of former Rookie of the Year Mike Miller, forming a trio that was "The Core" of the Grizzlies -- the future of the organization and the key to success.

Well, it turned out that his rookie campaign was Battier's best season from a statistical perspective as he posted career highs in PPG, RPG and APG. He was still seen as the consummate team player that he was touted to be coming out of college, but no one considered him to be anything more than a solid defensive player who was capable of being a "glue guy" for a title contender when he was traded to the Houston Rockets for the rights to draft pick Rudy Gay and recently departed Stromile Swift. The face of the franchise was no longer wearing Beale Street Blue.

The season that followed was a dark time for Grizzlies' fans, as it started off without Gasol who was suffering from an injury he suffered while in international competition, missing the first month and a half, and it ended with an NBA worst 60 losses and a draft pick that wasn't #1 or #2, leaving them out of the hunt for either of the potential superstars-in-waiting, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

Pau had his best statistical season, but questions that had cropped up here and there in past seasons about his ability to lead a team suddenly became full-fledged accusations and indictments while the team awaited his return from injury. The complaints were mostly of the same vein: "Pau isn't clutch", "Pau doesn't deserve a max contract", "Pau cannot lead this team", "We need to trade Pau". Then the news of Pau's conversation with majority owner Michael Heisley was leaked and all hell broke loose....quite literally. Fans who were already starting to question Pau and his ability to be a star player turned on him and the organization as they suffered their worst season since leaving Vancouver. Attendance dropped as the team lost more games and the trade rumors flew around the Internet, sending Gasol everywhere from Chicago to L.A. to the YMCA in Tulsa.

Through this morose period of Grizz fandom, a few fans preached patience, telling others to wait for Rudy Gay to develop and to see how good young PG Kyle Lowry might be upon his return from injury. I agreed with those people then and I still agree with them now, as I see the potential that Rudy, Kyle, Darko Milicic, Juan Carlos Navarro and Michael Conley all possess. However, if you look closely, there are two prominent names missing from that list: Pau Gasol and Mike Miller. Honestly, I should have titled this post "Waiting for Gasol and Miller", but that didn't fit the movie reference.

Speaking of which, now is the time to explain that. In Waiting for Guffman, a small-town theater company puts on an elaborate show in the hopes that a well-known critic by the name of Mort Guffman will see it and "discover" them. Alas, it was not to be as Guffman's flight got canceled and he missed the show. What does that have to do with Gasol and Miller? If you are waiting on the two of them to develop into great late-game performers, you can stop now. If you are waiting on them to become prolific scorers capable of taking games over single-handedly, you can stop now. If you are waiting on either of them to become the leader this team desperately needs, you can stop now. You can stop now because they aren't going to become any of that. They are who we thought they were. They are great players, but they are not superstars and they never will be.

Now, I said all of that to say this. Just because they aren't superstars doesn't mean we should trade them for 15 cents on the dollar. There is nothing wrong with having a Pau Gasol or a Mike Miller on a team that you plan on shaping into a playoff participant. There are those out there that will tell you that having either of them somehow instantly dooms your team. That's rubbish. If we simply gave either of them to the Spurs, Suns, Mavs, Pistons, Celtics or Magic, would that somehow make them a worse team? Not bloody likely. There are also those who would tell you that it doesn't make sense to have a max player who isn't the leader of the team and the best player. Also poppycock in my book. Shawn Marion is the highest paid player in Phoenix and is arguably the third best player on the roster. Shaq has been the second best player in Miami since he got there with his $20 million a year contract. Dirk Nowitzki appears to have taken a lesser role in Dallas due to the emergence of Josh Howard, but I don't see them calling for him to be traded every day. Dwight Howard will make less than Rashard Lewis each of the next six seasons. You could even make the argument that as important as Tim Duncan is to San Antonio's aspirations to a title repeat that both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have passed him by in terms of night-in, night-out performance.

So while having Pau (or Mike) on your team doesn't immediately doom them, that doesn't mean you continue to build around them. If Rudy Gay is truly the "superstar" level talent that Jerry West claimed and if Michael Conley truly is the next Tony Parker or Chris Paul, is it really going to be a detriment to this team to have Pau Gasol around? Just because you decide not to continue to build around someone doesn't mean you have to trade them as if they were suddenly worthless. If we must trade Mike Miller to get a more defensive minded G/F to start alongside Rudy, then so be it. But I don't see that many teams winning playoff games without having low-post scoring (ask Chicago and Dallas about that). The undeniable chemistry that Pau and Darko have when on the court at the same time gives me great hope for the starting frontcourt that has long been a weakness for the Grizzlies. So while I'm done waiting for Gasol to be the #1 guy in Memphis, I have no problem accepting him as the #2....or even #3 guy if it results in postseason success in the long run. But I'm still willing to be patient with this team -- even if not everyone shares that viewpoint.


brandon said...

nice, i love guffman. godot also never showed up.

but I'm with you on pau and miller. they've got their weaknesses, but they'd be good assets for any team.

its strange, player for player, the grizz roster 'appears' strong. but something's not clicking...be it a coaching issue, team chemistry, lack of personnel to fit the playing style. Blowing up the roster prior to Ivy's first full season seems premature.

MemphisX said...

You are going to have to give me an example of a team that has 40% of their payroll (and/or two highest paid players )tied up in 2 bad defenders that can't be counted on to score in the clutch that is successful then I can roll with you. I am doubtful you will find this a recipe for success.

Now consider that our owner already has on a set salary and we already have $15+ million invested in Stro, Damon and Cardinal, how and why do you expect this to ever be a good team?

Their not going to be good soon because Pau and Mike are playing 35+ minutes a game and the rest of the minutes are going to players trying to learn NBA defense. The problem is that nobody we put on the court knows how to play good NBA defense.

Something has got to give. Either we enjoy having Pau and Mike while being a bad team or we trade one or both and get serious about building a competitive team.

Spartacus said...

X, show me where I said to keep both of them. I said trade Miller if it makes us better. I'll even endorse trading Gasol if it makes us better. You have yet to provide me with a scenario that does either of those though. This was a post about what Gasol is and what he is not. He is not a leader or a clutch player. He is a great post player though. Why throw that away just because he's not a cornerstone?

MemphisX said...

He is not a great post player. He is good. He struggles to score 20 points per game and people keep acting like he is some dynamic offensive weapon. He isn't.

It seems that everyone wants to forget one fact about Pau. He doesn't give effort on defense. It is ok to be a bad defender because you are too short or to slow but he is bad because he plays lazy defense. Watch how many times he gets beat back down court after missed shots and turnovers and how that effects our defense.

For me, they can't trade Pau fast enough. I think Miller at least has been trying to defend this season and his effort shows up on the boards.

Spartacus said...

Then answer the question: Who do you trade Pau Gasol for that makes the team better?

davethegrizzman said...

I agree with you whole heartidly spartacus. Its hard to trade away two players that can keep you close all the way to the fourth and then have a guy like Rudy who is learning to be our goto guy in the 4th qauter. Look back at the game where he NAILED two 3'd to send it into overtime. He's learning.

Pau gasol and Mike are great compliments to the up and coming rudy gay. And i like your point about darko and Pau. They're playing great together. They work off eachother and their high low game is getting pretty damn impressive.

Yes we have a lot of salary invested in both of them. But they're worth it. Name me one player who produces the same numbers as mike and pau and get paid less?

Lets keep em and see where Rudy, Conley, and the rest of the gang takes us.

Here's to a bright grizzly future!

AussieGfan said...

Mike Miller and Pau Gasol aren't the reason for our sucky record right now.

They have weaknesses that are contributing to the losses but it's not fair to make them scapegoats. Like Spartacus said, put them on another team and suddenly they'd be pretty effective. The opposing commentators are pretty complementary of these players in every game I've watched. Apparentely according to Clyde Drexler and the other Houston caller, Mike is an allstar. :D

Good post Spartacus.

I wouldn't be against trading Gasol to be honest, but wouldn't be opposed to keeping him around either. But it's clear he isn't a number 1 option, if anything that's Rudy. Rudy has got something that Pau doesn't, an unblockable shot and he's already hit clutch shots this season. So if he can continue to develop especially in his confidence. It took LeBron a few years before he'd stop passing the ball off in the clutch to scrubs to take gamewinners, so compared to LeBron Rudy's doing quite well (not that they close in talent but just an example).

I think any statement about the sucky right now is a guess, it's hard to know for sure. If I had to throw my 2 cents in I'd say it's the coaching and the PG position. Maybe in 3 months time the PG position will have sorted itself out, and a healthy starting Conley could be the answer to those problems. The other is the coaching, I really don't think we'd have this record with Fratello or Hubie behind the wheel, they were never this bad unless there was a major injury like Gasols last year. But it's hard to know for sure. Hopefully with more experience learning on the job Ivy and the team can gel more. But one things for sure.. it sure is painful right now. And as long as it is painful there is going to be alot of rash statements (like trade demands) thrown around.

Thank god there are other teams to watch and enjoy when the team plays like this.

AussieGfan said...

Just one other thing, disagree with X singling out Miller and Gasol for reasons for losing, but agree about Miller's defense. He seems to have picked up something from being on the USA team.

It wouldn't be bad to trade either of them as long as it made the team better longterm (shorterm is screwed) but as always it's hard to get equal value if you try to force a trade on someone. And it's hard to even think of who would be a good fit. Josh Smith would be ok, he fills up the fantasy stat sheets and plays great D, but he can't shoot and that's if Atlanta agreed to it in the first place. Anyone got a paracetemol?