No one is happy with David Fizdale. And no one is less happy than Marc Gasol. Take that for emotional data.
In the final quarter of Sunday’s game against Brooklyn — in what would be Memphis’s eighth straight loss — Marc Gasol sat. He was benched with 3:05 remaining in the third, just as the Nets were taking out the Grizzlies, who were down by 17 points at the time. So Fiz yanked the team’s lone All-Star. A fourth-quarter repose makes sense if the game is lost. Memphis can’t afford any additional injuries. Centerpiece Mike Conley has been out with a sore left Achilles since mid-November; tightness in Chandler Parsons’s right knee kept him from reentering Sunday’s second half.
Then Memphis got back in the game. A lineup of Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans, James Ennis, JaMychal Green, and Deyonta Davis cut the lead to 82–77 with eight minutes to go. Gasol had been resting for more than seven minutes. He stood with four minutes left, reminding Fizdale that he, a 7-foot, bucket-getting, defensive stopper, existed. Gasol’s warm-up fit didn’t come off the rest of the game.
The Nets won 98–88, handing Memphis its eighth straight loss and its worst losing streak in eight years. What happened afterward — Gasol refusing to cut off a frank 15-minute postgame interview despite Memphis PR personnel attempting to twice — brought his place with the team into question.
“I don’t like it one bit,” Gasol said. “I’m more [angry] than I can show, and frustrated. […] If I’m not out there, I’m not valued. I’m sure they knew that would hurt me the most.”
Fizdale later explained the decision by saying he chose to ride with the lineup that got his team back in the game in the first place. Before Gasol’s terminal exit, the big had racked up 18 points (tied for a team high) and five rebounds in 28 minutes. He had more to contribute.
“I mean, anyone wouldn’t like it, right?” said Gasol. “You don’t put Mike [Conley] back in? I’m sure they wouldn’t do it to Mike. I don’t know. It’s just the way it is. You have to deal with it. But I’m not just going to lay down and take it.”
Last week, after the Grizzlies fell to the Rockets, Gasol blasted the team’s defense, calling it “selfish” and without “consistency.”
“To me,” Gasol told reporters, “it’s embarrassing and sad.”
Is it an overreaction to call this strike two? Fed-up players wanting to dip out has been the theme of the year. Kyrie Irving asked for a trade. Paul George checkmated the Pacers. Eric Bledsoe tweeted as much. But the market for Gasol is nominal, should his frustration escalate to a trade being necessary.
The 32-year-old is in the third season of a five-year, $113 million contract. In 2018–19, he’ll make $24 million; in 2019–2020, he’s owed $25.6 million. A fractured foot ended Gasol’s 2015-16 season early. Lower body injuries have a tendency to recur in big men. And being a vocally unhappy soldier automatically lowers the market value. But are you telling me the Cavs wouldn’t at least kick the tires on Tristan Thompson, along with the Brooklyn pick (and some salary reshuffling) for Gasol?
In a Spanish radio interview over the summer, Gasol said that although Memphis has improved, more growth is necessary to keep him happy: “If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.”
The last month has surely been a reflective one for Gasol, who re-signed in 2015 with the intent to growing old (in basketball years) with the franchise that he’s been with from the start. He and Conley are the last vestiges of the team’s Grit ’n’ Grind movement, and were supposed to be Fizdale’s — and the franchise’s — bridge to the future, one that’s now wobbling.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Grizzlies drafted Gasol. He was acquired by Memphis in a draft-night trade in 2007. Additionally, a foot injury ended his 2015-16 season, not his 2016-17 season, as previously stated.