The Memphis Grizzlies consider All-Star center Marc Gasol "untouchable" and have refused to enter his name in any trade conversations, two sources close to the situation told CBS Sports this week. Gasol has been the subject of rampant speculation this summer that he could be dealt, despite being just two years into a five-year max contract signed in 2015 that doesn't make him eligible for free agency until 2019.
The Boston Celtics are for Gasol, but notably, those reports have indicated interest from the Boston side, not from parties aligned with the Grizzlies or Gasol himself. Sources indicated that there has been no change or shift in the team's approach to retaining Gasol, nor is there a sense of any relationship being significantly strained with Gasol, despite his comments to Spanish news outlet Catalan that if the team doesn't continue to grow, the two sides may have to "revisit things" which caused a stir over the summer.
WHY THE GRIZZLES (CURRENTLY) HAVE NO INTENTION OF TRADING GASOL
Typically, the idea that Gasol could be available stems from the perception that Memphis has lost momentum and "needs" a rebuild. The Grizzlies, in reality, have made the playoffs the past seven years, and their decision to re-sign both Gasol and Mike Conley (who is also considered "untouchable" according to sources) was made with the intention of building around the duo long-term.
For Memphis, the concern is beyond simple wins and losses, however. For a small market, the Grizzlies may not have a center of Gasol's quality for literally decades. Other teams can make moves with an idea toward mobility and flexibility. A team like Memphis has to pursue discipline in retaining its stars because of the challenges the team faces in obtaining big-name upgrades. The Grizzlies' best path toward contention isn't to trade Gasol, even for a high-value draft pick. The outcomes in that scenario not only carry a wide variance, but most of the outcomes are worse than staying the course in both the short- and long-term future.
The Grizzlies also, at present time, has no leverage compromising them. The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving with two years left on his contract because Irving demanded out, and that information was made public. Gasol has not made such a demand as of yet. Paul George was traded with a year left on his contract with a public awareness of his interest in signing with the Lakers. (An interest that the Lakers reciprocated and as a result incurred the , as ultimately ineffective as that punishment may be.) With two years left on his deal and having spent the entirety of his career with Memphis, Gasol's position is dissimilar.
As for the short-term, the Grizzlies were tied for the fifth seed, a half-game behind Utah for the fourth seed and home court in the first round on March 1 before a late-season slide. They struggled last year, but not with the top teams in the league; Memphis' record vs. teams above .500 was commiserate with the other teams in its tier. But the Grizzlies had the second-most losses of any playoff team to squads below .500, and were tied for the fifth-most in their conference. That inconsistency might be a sign of their vulnerability, but a more rational analysis suggests Memphis was likely better than its record indicated.
On the other hand, the Grizzlies had the 13th-ranked mark for net points per 100 possessions last season, and their pythagorean win mark was on the dot with their 43-win actual mark.
Either way, if the Grizzlies are better or worse than that 43-win mark, their best bet for success is to retain Gasol, not to deal him in a rebuilding effort.
BUT COULD THAT CHANGE?
Keeping Gasol is the plan, but as the famous saying goes, no plan survives the battlefield. Everything can change, is the short answer. If some combination of the following were to occur, the Grizzlies' position on a deal might shift:
- Memphis struggles out of the gate, and we're talking "10-or-more games under-.500 by January 1."
- Gasol clashes with coach David Fizdale; their relationship has not been thick as thieves by all accounts.
- The Grizzlies' offseason additions of Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore both completely flame out.
- The Grizzlies' youngsters (Wayne Selden, Wade Baldwin IV, Deyonta Davis) all fail to show promise.
- Gasol himself demands out, which would be a highly out-of-character move by all accounts.
If this season is an outright disaster on all fronts, then surely things can change. Gasol's trade demand would be key here. A polite "it might be best for both sides if we separate" would not be enough to have Memphis pursue a different course. If Gasol were to demand the trade and then make things difficult in the locker room -- something completely against every known facet of Gasol's character and personality -- then, Memphis might be forced to cut its losses.
There are unforeseen events, as always, in the NBA, both with basketball and with personalities and bigger picture decisions, that can shift these dynamics. George was thought of as "untouchable" at this time last year, he's now with the Thunder. Kyrie Irving was thought to be "untouchable" a year ago; he's a Celtic. These things are always fluid.
Additionally, this situation looks much different next summer. If Memphis doesn't have an encouraging season, and Gasol is entering the final year before his early termination option in June of 2019, the Grizzlies would be in the same spot they were in with Gasol's brother Pau when they dealt him to the Lakers. Teams are getting ahead of the curve in dealing unhappy stars before their final year of free agency, and at age 33, he'll still be able to fetch good return. If Gasol indicates he's out in 2019, that's when the conversation about trading Gasol will shift dramatically.
WHAT MATTERS HERE
What's key is that teams are very reluctant to use the phrase "untouchable" because there's always that pie-in-the-sky deal that's out there. But unless the Cleveland Cavaliers come calling with an offer involving LeBron James who is interested in re-signing in Memphis (a less-likely scenario that Gasol suddenly sprouting wings and flying off to the sun), then Memphis' interest in any such deal is effectively zero.
The team is uniquely aware of what they have not only with Gasol, but with the combination of Gasol and Conley. It was Conley who flew to Spain to secure Gasol on a max extension two years ago, and Gasol then returned that same treatment in convincing Conley to re-sign for a max deal with Memphis a year ago. The two have played together for all but a season of Conley's career, and remain close. Their relationship extends to the court, where the two make up a brilliant combination in a variety of playsets, from pick and roll to dribble-hand-offs (in which they are arguably one of the best duos in the league). Gasol is 32, and a slide in his production can be expected over the next four years, despite his game not being built on athleticism as much as other bigs.
Yet the Grizzlies know they cannot simply replace a talent like Gasol, the same way the franchise doesn't feel it can just replace what it lost this summer when Zach Randolph and Vince Carter departed in free agency.
As for Gasol, one final note. After signing his 5-year (with a fifth-year player option), $110 million contract two years ago, he switched representation from Wasserman -- after agent Arn Tellem took a position with Detroit -- to Octagon. In February, he left Octagon, and has not yet filed for new representation with the NBA Player's Association. So while the news may continue to swirl around him as other team's seek out the latest star acquisition in the NBA's ongoing arms race, that static is coming from places outside of Memphis for now, with no prospective deal in sight.