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.