Back in November 2008—you know, back when it was very unpopular to do so—I applauded Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace for landing Marc Gasol by trading away his more-decorated older brother Pau.
At the time, Wallace took incredible heat for shifting the entire balance of the NBA at the expense of the team that employed him. Wallace traded Pau Gasol—the franchise's cornerstone and one of the best offensive big men in the game—to the Los Angeles Lakers for what was simply reported at the time as "Kwame Brown's expiring contract, Javaris Crittenton, a few draft picks and the rights to Marc Gasol."
That last part seemed cute at best. How sweet that Pau's little brother was being expedited to Memphis so that the more-decorated Gasol could play with the league's flagship franchise in the prime of his career? Cute. And an afterthought.
But Marc Gasol quietly began making his mark a season later in Memphis. At 7'1" and 265 pounds, he was a little bulkier than Pau. In his second full season with Memphis, 2009-10, Marc put up solid numbers of 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for a Grizzlies team that floundered around .500. Good numbers, but not the 18.3 and 11.3 put up by his brother Pau for the NBA champion Lakers.
Compound that with the fact that many believed that Pau Gasol, not Kobe Bryant, should have been the MVP of the 2010 NBA Finals, and the Gasol versus Gasol debate was not much of a debate at all.
Forget that Marc was only in his second year in the league. Forget that Pau was 29 and in his prime while Marc was 25 and only completing his second NBA season.
Except if you did, you were wrong.
Now in his third season, Marc Gasol still does not have the big double-double numbers or All-Star credentials that his brother does, but Gasol versus Gasol is a viable argument. Marc has anchored a Memphis defense that stiffled the four-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in six games in the first round and has the Grizzlies in good position to take down the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second.
When comparing the two, looking at strictly numbers would not do any justice. Marc has distinguished himself as a much better defender than Pau.
Yes, numbers will say that he only averaged 0.1 more blocks per game than Pau, but the game is not played on an Excel spreadsheet. Marc has more length to disrupt shots, has the necessary girth to body up bigger centers in the league, and already garnered a vote for the 2009-10 All-Defensive team in just his second season.
Pau, meanwhile, has spent most of his career trying to shed the "soft" label, a label that again came under scrutiny when New York's Amar'e Stoudemire offered his unsolicited take on Pau's playing style. No one would dare call Marc Gasol "soft" after watching him play. Or especially after playing against him.
Marc's defense is already ahead of where Pau's was at this stage of his career, but the younger brother can hold his own on offense. He can finish extremely well around the rim, as evidenced by his 54.5 percent shooting percentage throughout his first three years in Memphis. He has also developed a nice mid-range game that, although not nearly as efficient as Pau's yet, has helped Marc build a versatile offensive game to go with his tenacious defense on the other side.
After Memphis has brought in Zach Randolph, Marc's blue-collar style has complemented Randolph perfectly. Randolph, whose playing style is much more like Pau's with a finesse and extremely efficient offensive game and lackluster defense, has been a great frontcourt mate for Marc.
Both players excelled feeding off of each other during the first round disposing of the Spurs, and when Randolph signed his extension with the Grizzlies last month, he made sure that the team planned on re-signing Marc before letting his own ink dry.
The Gasol versus Gasol argument can be debated for awhile. But the point is that it is now a debate. The Grizzlies were not going to win a championship with Pau anyways, as evidenced by them getting swept out of the first round three straight years with the elder Gasol as the face of the franchise. And that was the team's apex, as the Pau-led Grizzlies failed to even qualify for the playoffs in the next two seasons that they had him.
Marc is not the only reason the Grizzlies have made their surprising 2011 run, and he certainly is not the face of the franchise given the likes of Randolph, O.J. Mayo, and the injured Rudy Gay. But he is certainly one of the main factors that Memphis has in finding itself in the second round, and you can even say that they would not be this far without him.
So forgive Chris Wallace. Forgive any Memphis front office personnel who participated in that trade on that fateful winter day in 2008. Yes, it put the Lakers over the top, but it cost them.
Only time will tell if it cost them the better Gasol.