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MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Gasol contemplates past, present and future as Memphis’ franchise center aims to get Grizzlies back on track

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – If Marc Gasol could somehow earn his team a victory for every time he’s stood in front of the media to address the Grizzlies’ struggles the past month, they’d be sitting comfortably among the top four teams in the Western Conference standings.

Instead, Big Spain’s 7-foot-1, 260-pound frame is bearing the overwhelming weight of a team that retreated to Memphis on Friday on the heels of another pair of road setbacks, with the Grizzlies (9-23) having now dropped 19 of their past 21 games.

Through it all, Gasol has stood tall in taking responsibility for his role in the slide while also seeking accountability from his teammates, coaches and front-office amid expectations the franchise takes an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to steer the season back on track.

But even the most optimistic side of Gasol had to admit after Thursday’s demoralizing 97-95 loss in Phoenix that time is quickly running out if the Grizzlies have any intentions of salvaging the season.

Obviously, we’re in a really rough patch, but we’re not that far. If you look, you get on a roll and you win 10 of 12, you starting thinking that way, like we normally would. I don’t think the people understand or that our guys here understand. But it’s got to be now. There’s a lot of season left, and we’ve got to be better as far as effort goes.

-- Marc Gasol

“We’ve won nine games,” Gasol said flatly as the Grizzlies shifted their focus toward Saturday’s game against the Clippers at FedExForum. “Obviously, we’re in a really rough patch, but we’re not that far. If you look, you get on a roll and you win 10 of 12, you starting thinking that way, like we normally would. I don’t think the people understand or that our guys here understand. But it’s got to be now. There’s a lot of season left, and we’ve got to be better as far as effort goes.”

Clearly, Gasol hasn’t bailed on this season, even in the face of the flaws, frustrations and flames that have engulfed it since that promising 5-1 start through the first two weeks. Now, there’s essentially no margin for error. No more patience for repetitive mistakes and miscues on the court.

No more room for excuses – via legit injury issues or some inexplicable stretches of selfish play that team members acknowledge have derailed the Grizzlies late in close games. Memphis is now a month removed from a controversial coaching change in which David Fizdale was dismissed 19 games into the season. The Grizzlies have since gone 2-11 and are still struggling to find answers as they remain without catalyst Mike Conley, who has been sidelined since Nov. 13 with an Achilles’ heel injury.

Less publicized is the fact that Gasol has been pushing through his own ailments, including a sore foot and ankle that has required regular treatment since midway through training camp. For him, for now, stepping aside for rest isn’t an option. Not when Gasol, who turns 33 next month, is as committed as he’s ever been to re-establishing the competitive foundation of a franchise hoping to regain its footing.

Gasol returns to the FedExForum court Saturday for the first time since he met with select members of the Memphis media for an hour earlier this week to candidly address his thoughts on Fizdale’s departure, the team’s constant struggles, trade speculation and his future with the franchise.

Here are the five most significant statements Gasol made on his past, present and future:

1. The Gasol/Fizdale Fallout

Gasol on his rocky relationship with Fizdale and why it ultimately faltered:

“We couldn’t make it work. That’s the truth. We couldn’t make it work. But that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t (have) made it work. I think we both wanted the best for the team and we were not figuring out how to be on the same page, obviously. It got to a point where things were getting out of control fast and they decided to go a different way.”

Gasol on when the issues with Fizdale started:

“As things started to go sideways, I believe after the Utah game (loss on Dec. 18) at home. That was really – that kind of was the beginning, I think. I think he blamed me and Mike for losing that game. And I thought that was not really fair when you lose, or when somebody has a tough game, you always got to help and figure out ways to help your players. And he just completely came into me and Mike. And I didn’t like that one bit. I told him and I told the coaching staff. But from that point on, things got a little rougher … After that, it was just factors that drove us apart, but I always figured that we could figure it out and work for the benefit for the team. Obviously, I don’t have to like everybody I work with. I don’t have to, but as long as we’re on the same page professionally, I don’t see why that shouldn’t work.”

2. Challenges to Regroup under Bickerstaff

Gasol on Grizzlies’ problems under J.B. Bickerstaff since the coaching change:

“Things don’t change overnight. I think it takes time and once you build up so many habits, you have to kind of like reset and reteach a lot of the things. But again, it doesn’t have that much to do with Xs and Os. I think what J.B. is trying to do today obviously have a relationship with things we were doing with Fiz and also cleaning up some things that J.B. wants to change. I really don’t think the success comes from a play here or a play there. It’s more about the things you need to do every day, how you practice, how you come to shootarounds, everything that prepares you for the game and how disciple and consistent you can be during the games, how you can apply those schemes for the game. And everybody needs to be trusted out there. It’s hard because of all the lineup changes and all the injuries and everything that create the instability. It’s hard to stay consistent through that.”

Gasol on his role, relationship and communication with Bickerstaff:

“He’s been great. He’s been with me since last year. He’s always been the guy they put on me to communicate with at all times. He was the guy that also, at the same time, he had a tough situation because he was in the middle of a lot of tension. So he always tried to do what’s best for the team and how to mediate with me and Fizdale. He was always so positive and has always been positive and always helped me understand that hey, just do your job and control what you can control and the rest will take care of itself. I think our communication has been really good. We both like to win. We’re both frustrated. But we’re both going in the same direction and that’s important. That’s a good feeling.”

3. The Outside Noise

Gasol on trade speculation:

“I think it’s simple. I’ve said it before. I’m not going to ask to be traded. A far as right now, as far as I see myself, obviously, I don’t know if everything changes with the franchise and they say, ‘We don’t want you to play this amount of games and we want you to rest, and we’re going to sit out Mike.’ But as far as their goals right now and what the team wants to accomplish, as much as I know, they’re trying to win, and that hasn’t changed. So my commitment to that will not change.”

Gasol on his mindset if the losing persists and this becomes a rebuilding season:

“In my mind, my job is not allowing that to happen. My job is not allowing anyone to throw away the season. Because at (age) 32, 33 next month, I don’t have seasons to throw away. I don’t have those. I don’t have that luxury. I’m not 23 or 24, where I can just say, well next year it’s going to get better. I have a sense of urgency and a desire to win that obviously as your career gets past 10 years and with a foot injury I had a couple of years ago, you know that at any time, this might be it. So I hope that during the next five, six weeks before the (All-Star) break, the situation has changed completely around and we are a much more consistent team going forward. Because that means we’re not talking (about my feelings on being involved in a rebuild) and you don’t have to ask that question down the line.”

4. Missing the ‘Core Four’

Gasol on adjusting to moving on from the Gasol-Conley-Tony Allen-Zach Randolph core:

“It was hard for me to lose those two guys. I understand moving forward and getting younger and all of that. But I could always count on Zach and Tony to do their job and do their part. And both guys were always brutally honest, and I’ve always appreciated that. Me and Tony battled a lot of times over a lot of stuff, like coverages on the floor. He would get mad like, ‘Pass me the ball. Don’t pass me the ball.’ But our connection was bigger than sports, and we’ve shown that over the years. We could always count on each other. Not having that and having to rebuild that again, that trust is not overnight. It doesn’t have to do with talent. It’s about doing the right thing, doing your job over and over again, and that builds trust with your teammates. I can see your body language and know what you mean. We’re on the same page. We might not always agree, but we are always on the same page as far as what our goals are.”

Gasol on whether the Grizzlies broke up the Core Four too soon:

“Once they said they were going to move on from Tony and Zach, it was a hard thing for everybody. At the same time, you look at it as a challenge. And the situation we’re in right now, I never understood the ‘Why’ exactly, but they said they were going to move on. And you so say, ‘OK, what is the personal challenge?’ They’re not here, so what do we need to do, how does my job change? And obviously, I’m not getting it done right now the way I would like to. But yeah, missing those two guys is huge.”

5. The Future

Gasol on his place in the Grizzlies evolving future:

“I don’t know. When I dissect things down and I chop them down and put them under a microscope, I don’t see the whole picture sometimes. And that has been one of my problems during this rough stretch. I got so caught up with how to execute and how to do my job that I wasn’t able to (take a broader view). That might be a question for me for the summer, when everything is different and you’re not under the pressure of the season so much when you’re trying to figure out how to play better, how to defend better, how to create more trust within the team, how to give trust to guys and they’re more reliable on the floor on both ends. That might be a question for the summer. Maybe I’ll have to look into the mirror and say, ‘Well, what do you want?’ But as far as now, I’ll always look at what can I do? What can I bring to the table? What can I do to win? Instead of ‘What do I want for myself?’ I never ask that.

Gasol on whether he intends to retire with the Grizzlies:

“I don’t want to retire. That’s part of the plan, I don’t want to retire. I feel really blessed to play basketball. After the foot injury, a lot of things changed in my mind. I am human. I didn’t see myself as Superman, but I didn’t before thing about retiring. But after the foot injury, I’m like this is a possibility. I’m like, oh, that gives me the chills and I realize that day might come. And I want to look back and realize I gave it all I’ve got. Whatever that is, it might be good enough for some people and it might not be good enough for some people. I might be the player that some people wanted me to be, and for some people, I might not. But I gave it everything I had and I have no regrets about that. Whenever that day comes, when I look in the mirror, that’s what I can peacefully say.”