Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Memphis Grizzlies Star Marc Gasol
There are several factors cutting against a Marc Gasol trade, not the least of which being an unequivocal statement from the Memphis Grizzlies' front office that no move was in the cards.
In the aftermath of Gasol's public discontent, which immediately preceded former head coach David Fizdale's firing, general manager Chris Wallace told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com the team had "no intention to trade" the 32-year-old center.
OK, sure. But it's funny how intentions can change when a franchise icon leverages his unhappiness. Particularly when the losses are mounting and an ownership shake-up means big-picture organizational thinking is highly unpredictable.
"A buy-sell provision in the ownership agreement between [Robert Pera] and minority owners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus was exercised last week," the Athletic's Jon Krawczynski reported on Nov. 30. "Both minority owners had the right to invoke the clause starting in late October, which allows one or both of them to set a new valuation for the franchise that sold for $377 million in 2012."
Result: Somebody's getting bought out. Only no one's sure who.
Perhaps the faction intent on keeping Gasol won't be making decisions down the road.
If we're going to get hypothetical, we've got to assume the Grizzlies will send Gasol to a winner. They owe him that much, and it's also true that the only teams likely to be interested in an aging star will probably be win-now thinkers anyway.
Memphis could prioritize getting a vet to replace Gasol, a pick to rebuild or some combination of both.
Sure, the Grizzlies say they won't move the best player in franchise history. But what if that changes?
Boston Celtics Get: Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans (maybe)
Memphis Grizzlies Get: Al Horford
Forbes' Mitch Lawrence uses just about the loosest phrasing you'll find when listing the Celtics "among the teams that could make a move for Gasol," but let's run with it.
Odd as it sounds, I think it's actually Memphis that has to sweeten this deal. Gasol is older and less defensively mobile than Horford, and there's also the consideration of Boston being the one trying to fix what's not broken. From the Celtics' perspective, this has to be a no-brainer.
That's why the Grizz might also have to throw in Evans, who's playing some of the best basketball of his life right now. He'd give the Celts a second-unit playmaker on an expiring deal. And while this version of Evans has value to the Grizzlies, he might mean more to the Celts, who'll need every weapon possible to make it out of the East.
That said, it's hard to imagine Evans being a deal-breaker if Memphis resists.
There's a cost savings involved for Boston in this scenario as well. Gasol signed a five-year, $113 million deal back in 2015. He's on the hook for this year at $22.6 million and 2018-19 at $24.1 million. He can opt out after that.
Horford is due $27.7 million next year and $28.9 in 2018-19, with a player option that triggers at the same time Gasol's does. Memphis pays a little more in the short term, but Horford is a year-and-a-half younger and, unlike Gasol, doesn't have a broken foot in his recent injury history.
It's hard not to smile when thinking specifically of Gasol directing traffic and splashing the occasional three in Brad Stevens' offense. But really, he'll fit anywhere.
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Marc Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies Get: Tristan Thompson, Cedi Osman, 2018 First-Round Pick (via Brooklyn Nets)
If we're operating on the assumption that the Grizzlies only start thinking about moving Gasol because he's asked for a trade, we must also anticipate a cooler market than usual. When everyone knows a player wants out, the requesting player's team loses leverage and the returns get worse.
In light of that, it's tough to see Memphis doing any better than this offer from the Cavs.
As Chris Herrington of the Memphis Commercial Appeal noted, it's hard to find a team in win-now mode that also has a quality future asset to trade: "The one exception is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are trying to win a title and own the rights to the Brooklyn Nets' attractive first-round pick this summer. Given the uncertainty over Lebron James' future in Cleveland, it seems unlikely they'd cash in a chip that valuable in a Gasol deal. If they would, the Grizzlies should consider that."
Herrington, like all the rest of us in the aftermath of the Memphis coaching shakeup, is just riffing here. But the logical appeal can't be denied. Cleveland gets a defensive centerpiece, a floor-stretching 5 and an elite frontcourt passer. Imagine the five-out spacing he'd produce, and imagine what James could do with all that room and all those shooters.
It's hard to fathom how defenses would stop a unit of Isaiah Thomas, J.R. Smith, James, Kevin Love and Gasol. You can't leave anybody alone.
If Cleveland believes James is leaving, maybe surrendering the Nets' pick is a nonstarter. But how good is that selection really going to be? It seems clear Brooklyn won't have top-three lottery odds based on how the season has gone so far. Realistically, that pick could be as low as No. 10 overall. And wouldn't the certainty of Gasol being on the books at least through 2018-19 be persuasive to LeBron when he's thinking about his free-agent plans this summer?
If anything, the uncertain quality of the Nets' pick makes this dicey from the Grizzlies' perspective.
Still, getting a lottery ticket, plus a younger starting-quality center and a flier on Osman stands out as a strong return. Memphis wouldn't necessarily have to commit to starting over with this package. It could integrate Thompson into the current core and then enjoy the luxury of adding a potential star on a rookie deal via the draft.
If you can get that for an aging vet who (in this scenario) wants out, you take it.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers Get: Marc Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies Get: Jusuf Nurkic, Evan Turner, 2019 Second-Round Pick (via Minnesota Timberwolves or Los Angeles Lakers)
How fun is this for the Blazers?
As productive as he's been since coming over from the Denver Nuggets last year, Jusuf Nurkic isn't on Gasol's level as a defender, floor-spacer or playmaker. For a Portland team that depends entirely on C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard for scoring and facilitation, it's hard to overstate how much relief Gasol's ability to function as a hub would offer.
Lillard and McCollum are both dynamite on the ball. You want them there as much as is reasonable. But Gasol's presence would weaponize both guards off the ball—which is only something that happens when the two play together.
Now, the Blazers could rest Lillard or McCollum with the security of knowing Gasol, a proven fulcrum, could be out there to help.
Quietly, the Blazers' offense, ranked 22nd overall, kind of stinks this year. It needs a jolt, and Gasol's a proven electrifier on that end.
The Grizz might balk at taking on Turner's money, but that's the cost of doing business when you're moving a (maybe) unhappy vet on a big contract. Nurkic gives Memphis a possible cornerstone if he re-signs—which the Grizz should do their homework on beforehand—and a thrown-in pick gets it done.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs Get: Marc Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies Get: LaMarcus Aldridge*
I know, I know. The Spurs just don't do things like this. Big, organization-altering in-season trades are for teams that don't precisely calibrate culture and fit. Sometimes, they're also for the desperate. And if we've learned anything from the way they've nonchalantly thrived without Kawhi Leonard all season, it's that the Spurs are never desperate.
But you can't deny the fit.
Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal noted that one of the issues between Gasol and Fizdale was that the big man, to Fizdale's frustration, didn't want to be an alpha: "The man has never wanted to be in the center ring of a circus. He has always wanted to be an important part of a winning team."
Good news! San Antonio is probably the least circus-like atmosphere in professional sports. No egos, no me-firsts, no alphas, no dispute about defense-obsessed hive-mindedness being the best—the only!—way to play.
One time, Gregg Popovich fined Danny Green for referring to himself in the first person, rather than his company-issued numerical identity signifier: Spurs cog No. 438E-12. If Gasol wants to be part of something without all the individual hoopla, this is the place for him.
Also, with this deal, we get both Gasols in one spot. This needs to happen, if only for the dramatic locker-room scene when Popovich, in a time-honored Spurs ritual, sprinkles droplets of Tim Duncan's sweat on Pau and Marc's foreheads while chanting, "You are no longer brothers. We are your family now. Your only allegiance is to the collective. Receive this sweat and be bound to us forever."
And, Spurs fans, let's not pretend you didn't pillory Aldridge six months ago for flaming out in the playoffs. You guys hated him. Don't act like he's suddenly untouchable after a couple months of excellent play.
For Memphis, Aldridge pairs well with Conley as a pick-and-pop partner. And if the Grizz need bailout buckets, there aren't many better options than dumping the ball down to Aldridge on the block. There's no loss of offensive spacing with Aldridge replacing Gasol, and Memphis' rebounding would likely improve as well.
*Trade cannot be completed until summer of 2018 due to restrictions attached to Aldridge's extension signed in October. But we're dealing in hypotheticals anyway. Maybe the Grizzlies ownership situation will be settled enough by then to get something done.
Toronto Raptors Get: Marc Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies Get: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Noguiera and OG Anunoby
The Raptors should have enough trust in Jakob Poeltl to hold down backup minutes at center, particularly with the luxury of playing Serge Ibaka in that spot whenever Gasol's out.
Giving up a pair of bigs isn't a problem.
Valanciunas' best attribute, posting up, really doesn't have much of a place in the modern game, so it's easy to see why Toronto would move on from him in favor of Gasol, a much more well-rounded option in the middle. The Raptors' offensive overhaul, defined by more ball movement and three-point shooting, would benefit from another slick passer. For all of Ibaka's gifts, his shakiness as a distributor on the short roll makes him a potential postseason liability against quality defensive schemes.
Smart teams will force him to make decisions on the move, which he's struggled with his entire career.
Putting Gasol at the 5 and simply turning Ibaka into a catch-and-shoot offensive spacer in crunch-time lineups has more playoff appeal.
For Memphis, this deal is really about Anunoby, a budding multi-positional defensive nightmare who could also contribute on the other end if his outside shot progresses. He's at 38.2 percent from deep on 2.6 attempts per game this year. If he stays anywhere near that number and adds volume, he's a hugely valuable asset at 6'8" and 232 pounds with strength and bounce to capably play some small-ball 4.
Even if we disparaged Valanciunas as a one-dimensional post-up threat, it's only fair to note he's actually good at it. He's used 20.5 percent of his offensive plays in the post this season, and his 1.17 points per possession rank in the 96th percentile.
Gasol makes about $8 million more per season than Valanciunas, but their deals are the same length. That's another positive for the Grizzlies.