Friday, January 2, 2015

Could Memphis’ Marc Gasol feel enticed to join the Lakers this offseason?


The question left Kobe Bryant equally bewildered and amused.

Did the Lakers’ star ever envision Memphis center Marc Gasol morphing into the player he has become? The one who causes those inside and outside of the Grizzlies to rank him as the NBA’s best center? The one who enters the Lakers’ game against the Memphis Grizzlies (23-8) on Friday at Staples Center averaging a career-high 20.1 points along with 8.3. rebounds and 1.6 blocks? The one who has anchored a top-ranked Memphis defense that earned him the NBA’s 2012-13 defensive player of the year award?

“Nope,” Bryant said, laughing.
The question left Kobe Bryant equally bewildered and amused.

Bryant provided an understandable explanation for lacking clairvoyance. Marc Gasol represented one of many pieces the Lakers (10-22) traded about seven years ago to the Grizzlies to secure his brother, Pau. That move required the Lakers to trade Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton and two first-round picks without any hesitation. As for Marc Gasol, the Lakers fretted little about granting Memphis his rights after selecting him 48th overall in the 2007 NBA draft.

“He was a heavyset kid,” Bryant told the Los Angeles News Group about Marc Gasol, who entered the NBA listed at 280 pounds. “He was a mystery to everybody. Who knew?”

The Lakers hardly have any regrets over the move they made, for obvious reasons.

“We won a couple more championships,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott, referring to the team’s back-to-back title runs in 2009 and 2010 shortly after Pau Gasol’s arrival. “You can’t get too mad about it.”

But it seems safe to say the Lakers would like Marc Gasol back once he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July. With Bryant, Nick Young, Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly as the lone players under contract for the 2015-16 season, the Lakers will have enough cap space to sign one player to a max-level contract.

Bryant smiled when offering a “no comment” on whether he will recruit Marc Gasol to join the Lakers. Or if Bryant would ask Pau Gasol to intervene as a third party.

Pau provided Marc a neutral perspective despite the affection he still holds for the Lakers after leaving this offseason to sign with the Chicago Bulls.

“I have shared with him that he needs to play as hard as he can,” Pau told Los Angeles News Group. “He needs to play as good as he can and take his team as far as he can. Then he can think about his future afterwards. He can put everything aside and then he can evaluate everything on if he wants to stay in Memphis. That seems like a pretty reasonable option.

“Or he can give it a shot to another place. We’ll see. But who knows. That’s later. Right now, it’s a distraction.”

Marc Gasol was not available for comment amid Memphis’ recent travel schedule and an unspecified illness that kept him out of Wednesday’s practice. But Memphis coach Dave Joerger outlined plenty of qualities earlier this season that makes him attractive to any team.

“He gets a lot of praise for being such an intellectual guy. That overshadows the fact that he’s extremely talented,” Joerger said. “His ball skills and hand-eye coordination is tremendous. His footwork is outstanding. His IQ and want to on the defensive end of the floor is amazing. He wants to win.”

Seven years later, Marc Gasol has changed his identity since the Lakers traded him as an unknown commodity riddled with questions marks. He has anchored a Grizzlies defense than ranks second overall in total points allowed (97.2 per game). The Grizzlies list him at 265 pounds after he spent an offseason on an unspecified diet to lose weight. Joerger attributes Marc Gasol’s increased assertiveness, mixed with his versatility in scoring and passing, for his career numbers.

All of which prompted Scott to say, “He’s the best center, I think, in basketball right now. To me, it’s not close.”

But should Lakers fans even get their hopes up? The Grizzlies own the Western Conference’s third-best record. They have played in the postseason in the past four years, backed by a core that includes Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. The Grizzlies could offer Marc Gasol a five-year deal worth around $108 million, as opposed to a four-year deal worth $87 million with any other team. Meanwhile, the Lakers are on pace to finish with their worst record in L.A. franchise history.

“I don’t see Marc leaving Memphis,” said Lakers forward Ed Davis, who played for the Grizzlies from 2012 to 2014. “He’s already got so much established there. So I don’t see why that would change.”

But …

“You never know,” Davis said. “Things can change in an instant like that, with something unexpected.”

Marc Gasol’s ascension in the NBA seemed unexpected, prompting Bryant to analyze him in a way that starkly differed from his first impression.

“He just got better,” said Bryant, who praised Marc Gasol’s passing and post presence. “He’s so athletic and light on his feet.”