Ask people in Memphis what they think of Pau Gasol and you could get a bunch of different answers ranging from he's the man to he's terrible (okay I cleaned that up but this is a public website and we have to keep things PG-13 or better). There has possibly not been as wide a disparity in feelings about a player since Jackie Robinson started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Is there anything that can be agreed upon about Gasol? Probably that his contract pays him to be the #1 guy and his game is better suited to be the #2 at best. The possibility (or inevitability if you believe another 3 Shades Blogger) of Gasol being traded seems to hinge on this one issue more than any other. Some fans want him gone yesterday and who cares what we get in return. Others believe that the team needs to get the best possible deal and should not trade him until they can deliver a blockbuster.
To me the issue is simply business vs basketball.
I see Pau Gasol as an excellent 2nd option/big man on a playoff contending team. After all he has averaged 20 ppg in the playoffs without any support. That is above his career average in scoring. How many players have actually increased their scoring averages in the playoffs? He has averaged 6.4 rpg which is below but considering the lack of a 2nd scorer/interior player I don't feel that this can be solely blamed on Gasol's lack of intensity or effort in the playoffs. Relieved of the dual responsibility of being the team's thug and scorer would make Gasol much more effective in my opinion. This is what is meant when people say the Grizz have never truly built around Gasol. You don't build around your star by adding smaller players who aren't physical. Darko Milicic is the closest thing Pau has ever had to a true big man on the team and he is being described as the biggest NBA bust in years. Combine that with pathetic perimeter shooting from other players and it is not surprising to see how the Grizzlies failed in previous playoff appearances despite Gasol's performance.
Right now Memphis is developing young players around Pau. Rudy Gay is developing into the #1 scoring option but still has some years to develop. Remember that Kobe didn't even start his 2nd year in the league, LeBron didn't get his team to the playoffs until his 3rd year, DWade didn't advance out of the 1st rd until Shaq, JWill and Posey joined the team in his 3rd year. Rudy is doing very well as a 2nd yr player but he still has some growing to do before reaching higher levels of success. Players like Rudy need someone with NBA experience as a lead scorer to help them develop.
Mike Conley is only 20 and Kyle Lowry 21 and both player and combined they haven't played 82 games in their careers. Point Guard is the one position most difficult to adjust to from college. It is rare for a rookie to step in and produce at such a young age. Even more difficult for two basic rookies to do so at the same time. The aforementioned bust is still only 22 and developing with his 4th different coach and 3rd different team. That type of change would retard anyone's development. Throw in at least one more lottery pick to the mix and you have a very strong and young team full of potential.
Strictly talking basketball the key is not panicking with this team. Don't make rash decisions while the young players are still improving. They are going to grow and Gasol has never shown the type of personality that would make passing the torch to Rudy Gay difficult. If anything the criticism has been that he seems to willing to pass the torch to those unworthy.
But that is strictly talking basketball and not factoring in business. The problem is this basketball team is a business and you can't discuss one without including the other.
From a purely business perspective the city's dislike for Pau Gasol takes on a whole different tenor. While you can objectively show that Gasol has been the best player on the team in the playoffs, the perception is that Gasol should be blamed for every loss. While the reality is that Gasol has succeeded in bringing teams to the apex of their sport in other situations (i.e. FIBA) the perception is that Memphis will never progress with Gasol on the team. While it has been shown repeatedly that Gasol is a good teammate the perception is that Gasol will sell out his team for to avoid taking personal responsibility for the team's past failures.
That perception isn't likely to change either while the team matures into contenders. And it is that perception that keeps fans away from FedEx Forum as much as the team's record. Attendance is down and almost to a person, everyone I have talked to said that the reason they don't attend games is that they hate Pau Gasol. I know three people that refused free tickets to the Cleveland game With LeBron James because they simply didn't want to see Gasol play even if that meant missing LeBron.
This is the real decision facing the Grizzlies front office. Everyone knows that making a blockbuster trade would be great but isn't likely. So do you jettison your team's best player (currently) for the unknown of young players or draft picks to make an appeal to the fans who may still refuse to come to the games simply because the team isn't competitive or do you hold onto Gasol under the belief that allowing the team to mature will bring victories and victories will bring fans?
It is a tough decision to make. The bottom line is that attendance is suffering. To make a dramatic leap in ticket sales either the team needs to start winning a much larger percentage of games or the team needs to do something in a trade that will force attention back on the team and if that is the move then Gasol has to be a part of any deal.
In my opinion the real issue involves the great unknown timeline that Wallace is working under. Does he have 4 years to turn around attendance? Does he have two years? Does he know? If Wallace is on a short timetable to turn things around then he better make a deal with Gasol that brings in a name player in return and forget the future benefit of the team. If he has longer (and does anyone really have a long time in the NBA?) then a deal that involves future picks and expiring contracts could suffice.
Either way just proclaiming that the Grizzlies need to trade Gasol to be good is not addressing the real issues behind the team. That is just looking for a scapegoat and not dealing with the real issues involved.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008