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VOL. 7 | NO. 43 | Saturday, October 18, 2014

Grizzlies’ Most Pressing Issue: Gasol’s Future

By Don Wade

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Our apologies for even addressing this depressing topic before the season starts, but realities are realities.

Without going too deep into the NBA’s thick contract rules and regulations, the short story is this: The Grizzlies and center Marc Gasol could agree to a contract extension around mid-December, but Gasol stands to make far more money if he becomes a free agent at season’s end. This is true even if he signs a new deal with the Grizzlies and doesn’t jump to another team or bigger market.

So don’t fret if nothing happens in December. If Gasol signed an extension then it would be limited to three years. If he signed a new contract with the Grizzlies after becoming a free agent he could get five years, or four years with another team. By waiting, Gasol could stand to make perhaps $50 million more over the life of the contract. In any case, he’s in line for a raise over the almost $16 million he’ll make this season.

Gasol’s position at the beginning of training camp: “We gotta take it day by day. We’ll get there when we get there. You guys know how much I love this city, you know how much I love this team, and this hasn’t changed.

“You don’t know how you’re gonna feel in June,” he added. “I know how I feel right now and how happy I am to be here, and about this season, and the city and my teammates.”

If it sounds like he has left himself wiggle room that’s because, well, wouldn’t you do the same?

Gasol turns 30 in January. So this next contract likely will be his last big one. He’s one of the best centers in the game. He has been an All-Star and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He also has never averaged even 15 points per game in a season. That said, as a 7-1 center with excellent playmaking skills and a hunger for winning, he is the most valuable commodity the Grizzlies have.

“This has been stated many times by (controlling owner) Robert Pera and myself,” said general manager Chris Wallace, “keeping Marc long-term is a major priority for us.”

Also critical: Gasol and Mike Conley have a strong relationship on court and off. Conley, 27, can become a free agent after the 2015-2016 season. It’s difficult to imagine one staying and one going, although you never know.

“I can’t speak on what his decision will be,” Conley said of Gasol. “But Marc’s an intelligent dude. He’s going to make the right decision regardless of what happens.”

No proof, just a hunch: A deep playoff run precedes a new deal with Gasol. Pera would believe the core, anchored by Gasol and Conley, could do more and thus be willing to invest more in pursuit of a championship (even against still long odds). And Gasol returning would make it easier for Conley to re-up with the Grizzlies after next season.

On the other hand, a disappointing 2014-2015 leaves the door open wide enough for both to exit, Gasol after this season and Conley after the next. At that point, you’re in full rebuilding mode. Hopefully, that point never comes.

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