David Fizdale benching Marc Gasol could be the final tipping point for the Grizzlies
Marc Gasol did not play in the fourth quarter of the Grizzlies' loss to the Nets on Sunday
The Memphis Grizzlies are on the brink. Of what, exactly, it isn't clear, but there's no going back to the way things were.
It was obvious things were going to be different around the FedEx Forum when Tony Allen and Zach Randolph left this offseason, and the seven-game losing streak the team carried into Sunday's game was telling of how the talent level has dropped compared to seasons past. Benching Marc Gasol -- and in the process making him visibly upset -- for the entirety of the fourth quarter against the Nets, however, just might be the tipping point.
As the fourth quarter got underway on Sundary evening in Memphis, the Grizzlies trailed the Nets by 14 points. After just four minutes of play, however, the Grizz had chopped the deficit down to just five points. It seemed a perfect time to get Gasol back in the game. For one, the game was now within reach, and two, around the eight minute mark is when Gasol usually checks into the game if he isn't on the floor to start the fourth quarter.
The substitution never came, though. In fact, head coach David Fizdale made just one meaningful sub in the entire fourth quarter, putting in Tyreke Evans for Andrew Harrison. Despite Gasol at one point getting up from the bench and walking towards his head coach as if to remind him that he existed, Fizdale didn't make another change until there were just 27 seconds remaining, and the Nets led by nine points. The Nets went on to win, 98-88, handing the Grizzlies their eighth-straight loss.
Following the defeat, a calm, but clearly frustrated Gasol spoke to reporters at length about the situation. In an attempt to prevent anything from being taken out of context, it's very much worth watching the videos to get a sense of Gasol's mood when answering these questions.
Gasol: Obviously you get frustrated. You take it personal. At the same time, you gotta think about your teammates that are out there. You gotta cheer for them. You have two options at that point. You can start pouting and be negative. Obviously you get frustrated, and I did get frustrated and mad, and I start wondering. At the same time I see my teammates and my friends, the guys I work with, out there trying to get a win. I'd rather try to focus on the positive of that. And to see them struggled, and not be able to help them, makes your mind go to a negative side, so you try to bring it back in. It's a tug-of-war on your mind trying to stay positive. It's a situation I'm not used to. I don't want to get used to, ever. And that's about it.
Reporter: Were you told anything?
Gasol: No, I was not.
Reporter: Will you have a conversation about...
Gasol: I don't know. I don't know if there's anything to be said. I'm more of an action guy, more than words. I don't believe much in words after all this time. Words, are just that. I believe more in actions. I see what people do, and I act accordingly.
The tension eased up a bit, as Gasol went on to talk about how he takes positives away from even a game like that.
Things quickly spun out again.
Gasol: I always led by example. If I come out here and start venting and go off, that would be counterproductive. That wouldn't be leading by example, that would be the complete opposite. Like I said, at the end of the day, I'm as competitive as anybody. I hate not playing, and that's what I value most. If I'm not on the floor, that means I'm not valued, and I'm sure they knew that would hurt me the most.
Reporter: Does communication, does it have to be where the messages are sent in this way...
Gasol: I don't send messages to you guys.
Reporter: No, no, no. I'm saying but to you via not playing, or something to that effect, as opposed to another way. You said it's something where they knew it would hit you where it hurt.
Gasol: That's anybody right? You don't put Mike [Conley] back in the end of the game? I'm sure they wouldn't do it to Mike. It's just the way it is. You have to deal with it. I'm not gonna just lay down and take it.
Reporter: Did they tell you anything as to why?
Gasol: No, no. I don't know the why. I do not know the why. I don't know the why, I just gotta do a better job, continue to lead by example for the young guys. I was telling these guys 10 minutes ago that the best way to do it is by example and showing them what we're about, what we've always been about, even when it's you. You know it's easy to say something when it's somebody else, and tell them, 'you are supposed to do this,' or 'you gotta act good,' but now that it's me, I'm the one implicated, I'm the one in this awkward situation, I gotta show 'em how to react. It's a first for me, trust me. It's not like I've been here before. It's a first for me, and I don't like it one bit. I'm more pissed than I can show, and frustrated, but for the benefit of the team, I gotta show leadership and continue to do my job.
There is... a lot to unpack here.
First, however, let's get Fizdale's explanation. Via The Commercial Appeal:
"We had just been playing so bad up to that point. That group was the only group that could get anything going so I just rolled with it," Fizdale said. "It's a long season - 82 games. We were struggling, so I was just seeing if that group could keep the momentum going but it didn't work. Not much has been working so I took a gamble on it."
Fizdale said he wasn't trying to send a message to Gasol.
"We'll address it if it needs to be addressed but it was a pretty simple decision what I did," Fizdale said. "It's nothing against him," Fizdale said. "I'm trying to win a game. I'm desperate. I took a risk. Sometimes when you take a risk you may (upset) a player or two. That's part of this position. I can own the decision and I have my reasons why. Winning is my only priority."
Sometimes, when things aren't going well, coaches will ride a little longer than usual with a bench unit that has gotten something going. And if that group of Grizzlies that had cut the lead from 14 down to five had kept surging ahead, Fizdale's decision may have made more sense. Once the Nets started to pull away again, however, not getting Gasol back in was a big risk, and it backfired in more ways than one.
Not only did the Grizzlies lose the game, but in the process they might have lost Gasol. Of course, he's still on the team and will continue to do his job. However, from an emotional and mental standpoint, sometimes there are things you can never really get over, and being benched for the entire fourth quarter as you watch a winnable game slip out of reach and turn into an eighth-straight loss could be one of those things.
Watching and listening to Gasol speak about the situation, it's clear he's upset about it -- not only because he didn't play, but because there seemed to be no explanation. Two of the key quotes illuminate that as well as a perceived double-standard: "I'm sure they knew that would hurt me the most," and, "I'm sure they wouldn't do it to Mike."
But perhaps the most telling moment is when Gasol was asked about having faith in this coaching staff. After a long pause, he repeated the question to himself quietly. "There is no other way," he said. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, and not exactly surprising considering Gasol and Fizdale haven't had the best relationship even before this incident.
What happens from here is hard to say. The trade whispers will surely start to swirl, and the longer this losing streak continues, so will those calling for a coaching change. And of course there will be many proponents of staying the course, hoping the Grizzlies' strong culture can mend whatever rift is forming from the inside.
Whichever way the Grizzlies choose to go, this is a situation that needs to be addressed, and with a long-term plan in mind. When your franchise center -- the only player on the roster to have ever made an All-Star Game -- is upset, there is not just moving on to the next game, and things will not be the same. Some sort of change is coming in Memphis. What that entails, however, remains to be seen.
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