He doesn’t duck.
That you can say about Marc Gasol, in the most trying of his 10 NBA seasons. For a decade, he’s been the centerpiece of the Memphis Grizzlies, a small-market team that has managed to remain relevant in the NBA with a style all its own -- Grit-‘N-Grind -- that captured the city’s fanbase and made Memphis a team that no one wanted to play on a Tuesday night. The Grizzlies rarely have been a true contender, making the Western Conference finals just once, and giving Golden State all it wanted in the second round in 2014; if the Dubs hadn’t come up with putting Andrew Bynum on Tony Allen rather than Gasol, allowing Bogut to zone up and help bring double-teams Gasol’s and Zach Randolph’s way, we could have well been downing stacks at Central BBQ while watching the Grizz and Cavs in the 2015 Finals. That’s how effective Gasol has been, a load at both ends of the floor, which has included a 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and three All-Star apperances.
But the last few years have been more mixed, as the 32-year-old Gasol has had to adapt to both defending stretch fives around the league while becoming one himself. That push and pull between Gasol and the Grizzlies’ now-former coach, David Fizdale, was central to Fizdale’s ouster just one year and 19 games into his tenure last month.
Yet Gasol hasn’t hidden or no-commented his way out of addressing his relationship with Fizdale; very calmly, he explains his side of the story, over and over, to anyone that asks. And he swears he wants to be part of the solution to the clear and present problem in Memphis, where the Grizz are in freefall, at 9-20, just a game ahead of Dallas, which has all but taken out house ads acknowledging its rebuild. Yet the Grizzlies are adamant that they won’t move either Gasol or Mike Conley, still on the shelf with an Achilles’ injury.
“He’s been trying,” interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said last week. “He’s been giving it all he’s got. He’s obviously frustrated with where we are right now. Nobody likes losing. And he’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve been around.”
Bickerstaff is moving him around a little, putting him more in the post early rather than having him on the perimeter as much as Fizdale did. But these are, relatively speaking, small moves. How long can Gasol handle being in a losing situation, and how long can Memphis wait before pulling the trigger on a full rebuild that would almost certainly involve moving their franchise’s best all-time player?
Me: How are you holding up?
Marc Gasol: The struggle right now is the toughest part. Trying to figure out ways to make the team believe, that’s been my main focus.
Me: It’s been a long time since you’ve been in this kind of situation, where you’re losing so many games. That produces far different emotions. How are you processing those emotions?
MG: You read the play that’s in front of you. You don’t try to look back; you don’t look forward. You deal with the game that you have in front of you. I try not to think about how many games we’ve lost in the last three, four weeks. I only try to worry about, how can I make the team stronger tonight? And how we build some momentum going forward. That’s my only concern.
Me: Are you concerned at all that your reputation may be taking a hit here?
MG: No. Because I believe that whatever the scenario might be, whatever people might think, things don’t work that easy. It’s not that simple. Obviously, the first instinct is to think, Wwell, Marc got Fizdale out of there.’ This is an NBA team. Things don’t work that way. Was it an ideal situation? Were we agreed on everything? No. I could have done a better job, for sure. Anything having to do with basketball, I’m the second-most responsible guy out there. But as far as the other stuff, it don’t work that way.
Me: Has it been just the injuries that have tripped the team up so far?
MG: No. I think we allowed some bad habits to be built up. We got away with it for some time. Eventually, we kind of got hit with a lot of stuff at the same time. And we haven’t been able to recover as fast as possible. Obviously we lost, I don’t think it’s only selfish stuff that’s hurt us. Everybody’s trying to fix it their own way. And everybody’s so focused on what we need to do offensively. Which, obviously, is a huge part of the game. But I think consistency is found in defense. And our defense has been everything but consistent.
Me: You’re going to tell me you want to stay here. But I would think you’d understand if people don’t believe that.
MG: Perception, that’s kind of the same thing, right? Perception is everywhere around, everywhere else. You can’t control that. All you can control is your commitment to these guys in the locker room, to the guys that are on the bus, the guys that go through shootaround, through practice. That’s all that really matters. That’s who you show your commitment to. And obviously, on the floor when you play in front of your fans. The perception from somebody’s that’s not even close to Memphis? I mean, they can think and say and have whatever opinion they’re entitled to. I’m respectful of that.
Me: Is J.B. putting you in different spots on the floor?
MG: Yeah. We’re trying everything. We looked at tape, trying to see where we can find more shots that are a little bit more in space, so everything’s not so crowded in the paint. And we’re looking at stuff. But, again, defensively we’ve got to take a personal challenge, where it’s everybody’s gotta step up a little bit. Me, too, obviously. I’m the anchor of the defense and I have to do a better job of communicating and putting urgency in guys.
... You can’t control what other people think or what the perception is. I can only control the way I play.
Me: Do you think the small ball trend around the league has hurt you personally, and this team defensively?
MG: No, I think, obviously, the change that we’ve been through the last couple of years. We had tremendous trust on the court. The guys knew exactly what their job was in every position. I knew the way Tony fought off a screen. I knew, like we were all connected in our minds, and our bodies were moving at the same time. It wasn’t always pretty; it wasn’t always perfect. But it was always connected. And I think, obviously, building that connection again takes some time. And you have to go through the same process over and over again. And I think we got kind of away from that a little bit. We got away from that and tried to build something too quickly, when the foundation of stuff, that connection wasn’t there yet.
Me: Everyone always connected Tony and Z-Bo with Memphis, almost more than you. But you’ve been there longer than anyone, going back to high school. Do you think people maybe don’t understand how much the city means to you?
MG: Again, you can’t control what other people think or what the perception is. I can only control the way I play. I’ve got to do a better job with my body language when things aren’t working out, instead of being deflated, more, more, more. That’s what I can control and where my mind’s at. Obviously I was a fan of the team at the Pyramid. Sidney Lowe was the head coach of the team, when Hubie (Brown) was the coach. It’s been a while. Now, the Pyramid’s a Bass Pro Shop. So things have changed down there. But I’m living the ultimate fan dream, which is the team you cheer for and watch games, eventually you get to play for them. Life’s good.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Roll Tide!— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerr) December 13, 2017
-- Steve Kerr (@SteveKerr), Tuesday, 10:32 p.m., expressing his obvious pleasure in the election of Democratic candidate Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate in Alabama, in an upset victory over Republican candidate Roy Moore -- the first time a Democrat has won a Senate seat in that state since 1992.
THEY SAID IT
“I like individuals, not so much on the organizations. Obviously I’m gonna be with Minnesota and the players. Not so much upstairs. I don’t really deal with Minnesota’s upstairs. They suck. But Boston, all day. You know I’m a C ‘till I die. I always root for Brooklyn. But other than that I don’t really get into too many of the upstairs.”
“The answer for us, in large part is Tobias (Harris), Andre (Drummond), Avery (Bradley) and Reggie Jackson -- those four guys, those are our four best players. Those guys have to play better. We can sit them all down and play the other guys. We’re not going to be a better team unless those four guys play better. Period.”
-- Stan Van Gundy, after the Pistons were smoked at home last Tuesday by the Nuggets, Detroit’s seventh straight loss, which has pretty much offset the team’s great start.
“It's over. I already told my wife, ‘This is my time to shine.’ Right now, you got the cute little onesies, but all the stuff I have for him is, like, 12 to 18 months, 18 to 24 months. I want to swag him out.”
-- Russell Westbrook, to ESPN’s Royce Young, on who will be handling dressing duties for the couple’s son, Noah, in the coming weeks and months.
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