MikeCheck on Grizzlies: The mindset of Marc Gasol as Grizz center copes with toughest season since rookie year
MEMPHIS – The longtime Grizzlies fan nervously awaited her turn, then approached the microphone, peered directly ahead at general manager Chris Wallace and keyed in on a specific subject: Marc Gasol.
She wanted to know how the Grizzlies’ franchise center was handling arguably the most difficult season of his decade with the team. And she needed to know what the lone major professional sports organization in town planned to do with Gasol moving forward amid some recent trade speculation.
So, for good measure, she also asked for the remaining terms on Gasol’s contract.
Marc has been with us his entire career. I think he’s signed three contracts with us … He has a (contract) that carries beyond this season … And we plan on him being here a long time.-- General Manager Chris Wallace
“League rules prevent us from talking specifics about player contracts,” Wallace answered recently. “But I can say this: Marc has been with us his entire career. I think he’s signed three contracts with us … He has a (contract) that carries beyond this season … And we plan on him being here a long time.”
Gasol, 33, is actually in the third year of a five-year, $110 million contract that includes a player option after the 2018-19 season. Wallace has strongly indicated the Grizzlies’ commitment to Gasol remains as strong now in difficult times as it was when the 10-year veteran was NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and helped lead Memphis on its only trip to the Western Conference finals.
The Grizzlies (18-38) are indeed struggling as they return from the All-Star break riding a seven-game losing streak entering Friday’s game against LeBron James and the Cavaliers at FedExForum. Memphis has never finished worse than 24-58 in Gasol’s tenure, but he knows the franchise is going through a bit of a transition in anticipation of better days.
With the Grizzlies set to return to practice Wednesday in preparation for the final 26 games, Gasol recently addressed his mindset moving forward.
Question: What do you expect from this team the rest of the way over the final 26 games?
Gasol: We have a lot of room to grow. The bar is set pretty low right now. I don’t expect guys to, you know, become huge offensive players or understand the game completely. But defensively, my main concern is I want to build the team chemistry and trust. It’s going to be on the defensive end. That’s just the way good teams are built. Even when you look at the high-scoring teams, they’re really good defensively. Everyone is tied together. And everybody understands what’s going on when you get on the floor. If you have three guys playing one defense and the other two playing a different defense, it just doesn’t work. Five guys have to be tied on a string, communicating – you have to be committed to what’s going on and you have to help your teammate out. So, that’s what I’m aiming for.
Question: We’re past the trade deadline, past Mike Conley’s season-ending surgery and pretty much past realistic playoff expectations. How do mentally cope with that and prepare for the final months?
Gasol: I kind of renew my vows every day, to be honest. Every morning I get up and renew them and understand there is more to it. There are people that believe in us, that support us every night that we come out, that are watching us at home, so many kids that we can still impact and who can fall in love with the game. It is a damn job. So nothing that happens outside should be an excuse for not doing your job as a player. When things go great, it’s easy. But when there’s no wind and you’re in a sailboat, you have to figure out a way to move and help your teammates. It’s not so much about you. When you worry about your own situation, you get caught up and go into a shell. But when you try to help the next guy, it’s just a flow. My main goal as the leader of the team is to make every single guy’s job easier. I’m not going to take any excuses. I expect everybody to play hard, not make excuses and do their job. That’s pretty simple.
Question: You were a rookie in 2008-09 the last time the Grizzlies struggled on the court in this fashion. It was the season before Zach Randolph arrived and two years before the Core Four’s first season together with you, Zach, Mike and Tony Allen. Is there anything you learned from dealing with that early adversity that you can apply now?
Gasol: That it sucks. It sucks. It’s hard to build on this because it’s just really hard. It’s frustrating, but, like I said, all the negative stuff that goes on, you’ve got to put it aside. You’ve got to meditate or do whatever you’ve got to do to do your job as best you can and be reliable for your teammates.
Question: Do you meditate?
Gasol: I’m past that. As one guy said some time ago, ‘They messed around with my Zen too much, that it’s gone.’ It’s gone. Meditation is useless (laughs). I try to block my mind. I don’t like my mind right now and the things it’s saying to me. So I try to block it and not listen to my mind. Every morning, hit the reset and rewrite on top. Whatever cassette you had, rewrite on top of it and take it one day at a time.
Question: You’ve had seven straight playoff seasons. When you see the standings now, does it seem kind of surreal that you don’t see Memphis among the playoff contenders in the West?
Gasol: I’m not looking at the standings. I have not looked at the standings in a long time. Obviously, the season is not going the way that we all envisioned. The feeling that you have, you shouldn’t be looking at the standings. You concentrate so much on the day-to-day and just kind of resetting and understanding what you need to do and improve as a player at the same time. You still have a lot that should be enjoyed and a lot you still have to play for, so you still have to improve as a basketball player and work on other stuff.
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