MEMPHIS (AP) – Re-signing center Marc Gasol is the Memphis Grizzlies' top priority right now as the franchise attempts to maintain the momentum created during last season's playoff run, general manager Chris Wallace said Thursday.
Wallace told reporters at the FedExForum that he has spoken with Gasol's agent Arn Tellem about securing the 7-foot center and keeping intact a nucleus that carried the Grizzlies to being within one win from the Western Conference finals.
The players and the NBA reached a tentative agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement last weekend, but the lockout is technically not over. Teams can't sign players yet, but the league is allowing teams to open their arenas for voluntary player workouts ahead of training camps starting Dec. 9. The regular season is expected to begin Dec. 25.
Gasol is a restricted free agent, and the Grizzlies would have a chance to match any offer Gasol receives. He averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds per game last season and could command an annual salary of $10 million or more.
During the playoffs, Gasol's averages increased to 15 points and 11 rebounds. Memphis lost to Oklahoma City in the 7th game of the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Gasol's return would cement a starting lineup that is expected to include forward Zach Randolph, point guard Mike Conley and forward Rudy Gay – all of whom have long term deals.
"That certainly is priority number one for our organization at this point," Wallace said about signing Gasol.
Wallace also said he has contacted the agents for forward Shane Battier and center Hamed Haddadi. He also has spoken to a agents for other available players as he looks for another power forward/center and a three point shooter.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said he likes the continuity the team has built but much work still is ahead.
"The more experience you have together, the better it will flow," Hollins said. "That's an advantage to getting started, but it's no advantage in how you play during the season once it starts. We have to rebuild our chemistry, we have to redefine our roles, and everybody has to accept those roles again."
The continuity extends to the coaching position and front office: Wallace and Hollins signed multi-year deals in 2010.
Gay missed 28 regular season games and the playoffs last season with an injured left shoulder. Hollins used Battier and undersized Sam Young at small forward after Gay was hurt, but he said Thursday that he expects Gay to return to his starting role.
"It may not be at the beginning of training camp – he's going to have to earn his way back – but I'm counting on him as being our starting small forward," Hollins said.
Memphis also needs to replace assistant coaches Johnny Davis, who joined the Toronto Raptors, and Damon Stoudamire, who is now an assistant at the University of Memphis. Hollins said he has no timetable for replacing them.
Wallace said Memphis is becoming an attractive destination for free agent players due to last year's success and its core of young veterans. The Grizzlies' run to end the regular season and their defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs sparked interest from once-apathetic fans who packed Beale Street after wins.
"We have some people that are recruiting us in addition to us recruiting them," said Wallace, who has been the Grizzlies' GM since 2007. "The great job that coach Hollins and company did last year and the excitement that was generated here with our home games really resonated throughout the basketball world.
"The perception of our team is at an entirely different level than it's been since I've been here."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.