Through the first 16 games of the 2018-19 season, things were looking up for the Memphis Grizzlies.
They were starting to resemble more closely the Grit-and-Grind rendition of themselves – boasting an impressive 11-5 record and a +3.2 net rating – than the injury-riddled, lottery-bound version of themselves from last year.
Unfortunately, the good times did not last for Memphis.
Since Dec. 1, the Grizzlies are 6-17, the fourth-worst record league-wide, and have a -5.5 net rating, the NBA’s fifth-paltriest mark in that time frame.
Obviously, with the collective age of the team and the mediocre amount of young talent, outside of Jaren Jackson Jr., they possess, whispers have started to permeate regarding what their future could look like.
The New York Times’ Marc Stein added to the whispers, tweeting the following about Memphis’ second-highest paid player:
For the year, Marc Gasol’s numbers – 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 tripes per game – are impressive enough, which gives the impression that finding a suitor for him shouldn’t be that difficult for Memphis.
However, things may not be that simple, because, just like the Grizzlies as a whole, Gasol started the year off much better than the level he’s been at over recent weeks:
Could his age – Gasol is almost 34, with a ton of extra miles on him from the added toll of international competition – finally be catching up to him? Or is the ankle injury from Nov. 27 (i.e., right when his averages took a nosedive), which Gasol refused to sit out from despite admitting it was affecting him, mostly to blame?
Either way, teams are going to want to know before attempting to pull off any sort of deal for the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year.
If Gasol’s medicals to check out, we broke down four of his potential trade suitors below.
Although it appears Kemba Walker is leaning towards re-signing with the Charlotte Hornets this summer, the team currently sits at 21-23 and as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed. With their starting center and one of their most impactful players, Cody Zeller, set to miss an undisclosed amount of time due to injury, the Hornets would be wise to make a move for another starting-caliber big man prior to the trade deadline in order to avoid falling below the playoff line.
Because if the Hornets do miss postseason action for the third straight year, and the fourth time in five campaigns – who knows? – maybe Walker starts to rethink his stance and becomes more open to considering his free-agent options this offseason.
That, in turn, could have disastrous ramifications for the Hornets, if they do lose Walker.
So why not get ahead of it now and find a stud center to place next to Walker? Someone who could provide scoring, rebounding and defense, who could help take some of the nightly load off of Walker?
Maybe someone like Gasol.
The big Spaniard already has experience in playing with an outstanding point guard from his years shared with Mike Conley, so acclimating to sharing the floor with Walker shouldn’t be difficult. In fact, the duo’s pick-and-pop potential would be downright exciting.
Additionally, Charlotte has the young assets, as well as the salary needed, to get a deal done. A package centered around Nicolas Batum, who would fit nicely in Memphis, and Willy Hernangomez, to replace the departing Gasol, would make sense, maybe with a protected draft pick thrown in there to complete the pot.
Gasol is still effective enough to help push the Hornets from the 8-10 range in the East to 6-7, so even as a two-month rental, he could prove worth it for Charlotte.
Another Eastern Conference team flirting with the playoff line, the Washington Wizards could also make some sense as a Gasol suitor, especially when you consider that they’re also missing their starting center in Dwight Howard, who is out for an extended period with injury.
Although much has been made of the Wizards’ tumultuous season thus far, they currently sit just 2.5 games out the eighth seed in the conference, and, even more ridiculously, just 3.5 games out of the sixth seed.
So with a little push, they could go from the outside facing in to firmly in a playoff spot.
And landing a talent like Gasol could help them make that push.
Though Thomas Bryant has filled in admirably for the injured Howard, he’s still just averaging 10 points and 6.2 rebounds nightly as a starter, numbers that Gasol could eclipse with ease in a similar role. Simply put, the three-time All-Star could provide Washington with more on both ends of the floor, thanks to his ability to space the floor and protect the paint.
A deal centered around Otto Porter, whose 3-and-D prowess on the wing is sorely needed in Memphis, and whose massive contract the Wizards wouldn’t mind getting off their books, would make some sense for both sides.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
With the Los Angeles Clippers pushing for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference, they may look to acquire a veteran center like Gasol in order to give their starting lineup a boost. Their current starter at the position, Marcin Gortat, just doesn’t have much left in the tank, as the Polish big man is averaging a meager 5.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season.
Not only would Gasol be an upgrade over Gortat, thanks to his ability to knock down the long ball, he could even close games next to the energetic Montrezl Harrell, who has been one of the best-kept secrets in the league this year.
Even if he doesn’t close games, in a 25-minute-per-night role, Gasol could be extremely productive. Considering he’s already in his age-34 season, taking a slightly smaller nightly role could even benefit him, and help extend the tail end of his prime just a bit.
In order to get a trade done, L.A. could offer Danilo Gallinari, a high-scoring wing who would fit nicely next to Conley, as well as Boban Marjonovic to fill the void left behind by Gasol. The Clippers want to keep cap space open this summer to make a free-agent splash; losing Gallinari (who has two years left on his deal) while adding Gasol, who may opt out of his contract this offseason, could be one way to accomplish both that, as well their mission to make the playoffs this season.
The Sacramento Kings have the playoffs set on their sites. But although they’re currently over .500 at 23-22, they still sit ninth in the brutal Western Conference, so they may need to make a move prior to the deadline in order to heighten their chances at reaching the postseason for the first time since 2005-06.
An experienced vet like Gasol, who knows what it takes to be a consistent postseason contender, could be a big help for the Kings.
His elite pick-setting abilities and floor-spacing prowess would mesh wonderfully with young stud point guard De’Aaron Fox, who, like Conley, is a lefty lead guard who knows how to get buckets. Gasol being a modern version of the current Kings general manager, Vlade Divac, except with better defense, could increase Sacramento’s interest in acquiring him, too.
In order to land Gasol, the Kings could offer a package centered around Willie Cauley-Stein (while adding Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufus for salary-matching purposes), a young, talented big man who is about to hit free agency for the first time next summer.
The Grizzlies would get the next three months to see if Cauley-Stein is the right fit to be their center of the future before he’s a restricted free agent, while the Kings would get an excellent big man in Gasol to help make their playoff push.
A win-win for the two franchises, who are both, at the moment, headed in different directions.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.