Where Is the Better Long-Term Home for Marc Gasol: San Antonio or Memphis?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2015

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When the 2015-16 NBA season rolls around, Marc Gasol will be entering his eighth go-round in the Association, and he will do so while representing one of two teams: his own Memphis Grizzlies or the San Antonio Spurs.

This, to be sure, is not a stated arrangement. As one of the premier free agents available this summer, Gasol will generate interest from any number of squads with cap space, ranging from the Grizzlies and Spurs to the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks.

Call this an educated guess instead.

Gasol is 30 and, therefore, doesn't have the incentive to break bread with teams that aren't ready to contend. The Grizzlies are working off a 55-win season for the second time ever and considered favorites to retain him, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. The Spurs are the NBA's foremost authority on winning championships these days and have interest in the 7'1" center, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

So while other organizations will get their foot in the door, it's Memphis and San Antonio that should be viewed as the front-runners. Both pose an interesting, justifiable fit for a two-time All-Star looking to win.

But, in the end, there can only be one.

Which should it be?

Grizzly Appeal

May 13, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward David Lee (10) during the fourth quarter in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warrior
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Winning will top Gasol's list of free-agent priorities, but the prospect of remaining in Memphis is about so much more than championship hardware.

"I have not thought about changing teams," Gasol told Gigantes del Basket's Adriano Correal (transcription courtesy of HoopsHype). "Everybody knows about the relationship between Memphis and all my family. It's special, and it has left a mark on us."

Indeed, Gasol has never played for another NBA team. The first seven years of his career have been spent with the Grizzlies, representing Memphis. Those ties matter. 

That familiarity, that sense of obligation and camaraderie, matters.

It also doesn't hurt that the Grizzlies can offer him more money and years than any other suitor. They can sling five years compared to the four he would have to accept elsewhere and offer bigger annual raises (7.5 percent) than any other team (4.5 percent).

Leaving Memphis would cost Gasol tens of millions of dollars over the life of his next contract. And at 30, he's not in position to gamble on himself with a short-term deal that allows him to enter free agency in 2016 or 2017, when the salary cap spikes.

This will be the last long-term contract of Gasol's career, and max money is readily available to him now. Those additional dollar signs will be a factor, no matter how much he wants to win.

Money talks, and the Grizzlies' contract offer, relative to that of other suitors, will speak volumes over the summer.
Money talks, and the Grizzlies' contract offer, relative to that of other suitors, will speak volumes over the summer.Noah Graham/Getty Images

And it's not like he cannot win in Memphis. The Grizzlies just wrapped up their second-best season ever and nearly snagged the No. 2 seed in a historically harsh Western Conference.

Remaining among the top three will be difficult with the Golden State Warriors set up for dynasty contention, the Oklahoma City Thunder getting healthier and teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Spurs themselves hanging around. But the Grizzlies are built to weather that storm.

Zach Randolph is locked up through 2016-17 on a cap-friendly contract; the same goes for Tony Allen, Memphis' resident perimeter pest; Mike Conley, a star in his own right, is only 27 years old; Jeff Green has already opted in for the last year of his deal; and Courtney Lee and Vince Carter will each be around until at least next summer.

Gasol won't be rejoining a barren cupboard. His return would erase all of the Grizzlies' cap flexibility for next season, but he gets to stick with a scrappy team that, at the very least, is still constructed to eclipse 50 wins for a fourth consecutive season.

Conley, Green and Lee are also all slated for free agency in 2016, while Carter's 2016-17 salary isn't guaranteed. Even after re-signing Gasol, the Grizzlies can work it so they'll have less than $40 million in definitive commitments—not including potential cap holds—just as the salary cap reaches $89 million.

They will still have the wiggle room to rebuild and retool on the fly should this core fail to get it done again. And that same core, whether it stays intact or not, is younger than San Antonio's. There will be no threat of a Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili or even Gregg Popovich retiring next summer.

Gasol doesn't have to worry about the Grizzlies breaking up the band before next season.
Gasol doesn't have to worry about the Grizzlies breaking up the band before next season.Noah Graham/Getty Images

Important still, there is nothing new about Memphis' plan of attack. Though the Grizzlies are chastised for not shooting enough threes—they rank dead last in treys made and attempted since 2009—Gasol's place in the offense is secure. 

More than 14 percent of the Grizzlies' possessions ended with a post up last season, the most in the NBA. Gasol knows full well that's not going to change. The Grizzlies don't have the requisite shooters to bilk him of touches, and his usage rate has increased in each of the last four seasons.

Systematic prominence, like money, winning and geographic comfort, matters. Gasol isn't in for any surprises. He knows what the Grizzlies are about and, most importantly, how he fits into their model.

San Antonio Seduction

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 29:  Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies dribbles against Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 29, 2015 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

Let's be real: If you're going to leave money on the table, journey to a foreign city to play for a different team and bank on that team being your ticket to a championship, there's no better play than betting on the Spurs.

"San Antonio is a model franchise, and I've always admired Tim Duncan," Gasol told Abraham Romero of Diario AS (transcription via the San Antonio Express-News' Dan McCarney). "We'll see what happens this summer.”

The Spurs have won 70.4 percent of their regular-season contests since Duncan entered the league in 1997. No other team has won even 62 percent of its games during that time.

They've nabbed five championships in the last 17 years.

They've helped reinvent the way the entire NBA plays.

They are one of the select few, infallible standards of success in professional sports.

Nothing and no one this dominant lasts forever. Duncan is 39, Ginobili is going on 38, and Popovich is 66. There will come a time when these Spurs will have to disband.

Nothing lasts forever, but the Spurs' dominance doesn't have to end anytime soon.
Nothing lasts forever, but the Spurs' dominance doesn't have to end anytime soon.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

There's a chance the Spurs won't even be able to afford Gasol at the max as well. Signing him, as previously explained, will entail dumping Tiago Splitter and hoping Duncan and Ginobili accept drastic pay cuts. It may also include parting ways with Danny Green, who will hit free agency this summer.

But if that's the downside of ambling into San Antonio's locker room, well, there isn't actually much of a downside.

Playing beside Duncan and Ginobili for one year isn't a bad thing. It allows Gasol to get the full Spurs experience before helping usher in a new breed of title contender. And that breed of title contender will consist of Gasol, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, the latter of whom isn't yet 24 and is already a Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. 

Oh, and once Duncan and Ginobili do retire, the Spurs will have the necessary cap space to go out and sign more talent. (That, or Kyle Anderson will have already established himself as San Antonio's next future Hall of Famer.)

In other words, the Spurs are going to figure things out. They'll look significantly different from the way they do now in the coming years, but their draft-day track record and systematic sagacity will get them by, ensuring the sun never sets on their time among the Association's title contenders.

Gasol was made for the Spurs offense.
Gasol was made for the Spurs offense.D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

For Gasol specifically, the offensive transition doesn't get much easier. While the structure and strategy don't compare to Memphis' plodding attack, the Spurs know how to use big men; they ranked ninth in post-up frequency last season.

They can carve out a gargantuan role for Gasol. The Spurs' sets are prided on versatility, and Gasol functions as a Duncan-type player down low. 

As Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb previously detailed:

Gasol can operate all around the floor, using his gigantic frame to set paralyzing screens in the process. He's both physical and elegant, a bizarre hybrid of old-school post tricks and modern notions of a passing, shooting big man.

Perhaps most importantly, Gasol isn't the hero-ball type. He'll rise to the occasion but won't dominate the basketball or kill ball movement. That's not his style, and it's certainly not San Antonio's.

Setting high screens and rolling toward the basket is something Gasol already does in Memphis. The Grizzlies actually utilized roll men more than the Spurs last season.

Serving as a secondary playmaker is of no concern either. Gasol ranked third in assist percentage among all centers for 2014-15.

San Antonio uses Duncan in that same vein. Even now, without actually seeing Gasol in a Spurs uniform, you can see Gasol operating on the low block as Duncan so often does:

Factor in the extra spacing the Spurs' roster offers—they rank fifth in made three-pointers since 2009—and Gasol would become an even greater playmaking threat, enjoying the same surrounding luxuries as Duncan.

Rather than strictly collapsing defenses with his back-to-the-basket sets or threading the needle from the foul line extended, Gasol can defer to orbiting shooters off screens, while ambling toward the hoop:

Try telling yourself Gasol wouldn't thrive under those same circumstances, operating within those same plays. You'll fail.

The Spurs aren't just able to accommodate Gasol's skill set; they're built to amplify everything he can already do.

The Best Long-Term Home Is...

...Where the Spurs live.

Regardless of where Gasol actually signs, a championship isn't promised. But the Spurs are as close to a guarantee as he'll get. They've shown that they can adjust and adapt to the fast-evolving NBA. The Grizzlies have not. Their brand of basketball has already carried them as far as it can.

That Western Conference Finals loss in 2013—to the Spurs no less—remains the Grizzlies' ceiling. If they were going to match or build upon that finish, it would have happened by now. And while they could change course and install a more contemporary, championship-ready style, those shifts take time. 

These Spurs don't need time, not even with Duncan and Ginobili speeding toward the end. They have a tried-and-true culture in place, one that not only suits Gasol but will give him an opportunity to compete for, and potentially win, titles year in and year out.

Looking at the free-agency landscape, that's something no other team can offer.

Including the Grizzlies.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball-Insiders.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale. 


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