With Marc Gasol out, What are the Memphis Grizzlies?

(This post is part of a three-part series. You can find the Rose and Iguodala parts here and here.)

Three potential contenders suffered grievous setbacks this past Friday as Marc Gasol (C-Memphis Grizzlies), Andre Iguodala (G/F Golden State Warriors), and Derrick Rose (PG- Chicago Bulls) all went down with various injuries mid-game. What effect will these injuries have on their teams? Will they be able to persevere these early season calamities on the way to a storybook ending? Or will they collapse into nothingness before our eyes? It depends! These players all mean something very different to their squads, though unfortunately for the teams in question, the common denominator in all three cases is one of irreplaceability.

It’s a classic Wizard of Oz triple-header the loss of heart, brain, and courage, respectively.


The Scarecrow

Marc Gasol, the burlier of the Gasol boys and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, suffered a knee injury (more specifically an MCL sprain) during a game with Southwest Division Rivals the San Antonio Spurs. Gasol is out indefinitely but will not require surgery, which you could consider one of those silver linings people always force you to look for. The Grizzlies started the season somewhat lost, having only just recently clawed themselves back up past .500 in the standings. The loss of Marc is not just the loss of his sweet jump shot or solid rebounding or even his ability to create for his teammates. Yes, everyone knows he is the team’s best player, even on a team that doesn’t have what you would loudly declare a “superstar”. The Grizzlies do it their own way, a grit-n-grind oligarchy that gets what it can from their role players and dominates the game with throwback high and low post domination.

Marc Gasol is what makes the success of the Grizzlies even remotely possible to sustain. So what you’ve got here is a case of a beating heart ripped out of an insecure chest. Do people remember Zach Randolph before his team up with Marc? He had his points, dazzled with his soft touch around the basket and ballet nimble footwork but he wasn’t the cuddly family friendly type.

Randolph is intelligent and skilled, but also moody and prone to game killing frustration. I’m not a huge believer in the science of body language, but I’ve watched enough Zach Randolph to know that sometimes that dude just doesn’t feel like it is worth his time to play all that hard. During stints with New York and the Los Angeles Clippers (leaving aside the weirdness of the Jail Blazer years) I remember several instances of this kind of scenario: Randolph scoring about twenty points, getting about ten rebounds, losing the game by five, and walking off the court with a smile on his face. That version of Randolph has been chiseled into something more dangerous and lovable just by virtue of Gasol’s presence.

Gasol is not quite as enamored with social justice and fantasy novels and other charming asides as his big brother, but he’s a guy your mom would want you to hang out with. He’s the kind of popular kid who can make the bad kids good again. It might be dangerous to so blithely assign this symbolic baggage to guys who are simply trying to play basketball as awesomely as they can, but Marc Gasol brings an incalculable and irreplaceable medley of possibility and leadership and necessity to the squad. Without him they are capable of bursts of good play (their doomed struggle against San Antonio for instance) and Mike Conley and Zach Randolph and Tony Allen all know their roles well enough to win some games. But how far can this team go without Marc Gasol?

The likely answer is depressing: not very far at all. In a hyper competitive and cutthroat Western Conference, an extended absence from Gasol could mean the Grizzlies might very well fall too far behind in the race for the post-season, even at this early stage. Look what happened last year to the Mavericks and the Timberwolves.

Grizzles without their Heart: Miss the playoffs. Disgrace, Randolph traded, Dave Joerger on the hottest of hot seats.

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