Gasol Back in Fold, Grizzlies Still In Thick of Tough Western Conference

By Don Wade

There were a few mildly uneasy days between the arrival of Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera in Spain and the news that, yes, All-Star center Marc Gasol would indeed re-sign with the team. And not just for a short-term deal, but a five-year max contract (about $113 million) with a player option after the fourth year.

With center Marc Gasol, right, signing a long-term deal, the Grizzlies are returning their core starting lineup for the 2015-16 season and look to continue the competitive era Memphians have grown accustomed toß.

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Although Gasol never promised he would re-sign with the Grizzlies, he did promise the process would not make for punchlines.

“It won’t be no drama, nothing crazy,” Gasol said in May.

In other words, he wasn’t going to go all DeAndre Jordan. When Jordan reversed course on the verbal commitment he made to Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavs’ Chandler Parsons tweeted: “I thought I had a good pump fake.”

Cuban said via social media that Jordan “never responded, not once,” and for the real entertainment, there was ESPN’s Chris Broussard painting a picture of a frantic Cuban with this tweet: “Sources: Cuban beside himself. Driving around downtown HOUSTON begging (thru texts) Jordan’s family 4 address to DeAndre’s home.”

Yeah, go ahead, make a reality show out of that.

Eventually, of course, Cuban fired back at Broussard on Twitter: “That’s the dumbest (crap) Ive ever heard. If you had any ethics u would msg me and I will give u his address.”

But that’s still not the best part. The Clippers went full-court press to close the deal. As Jordan agreed to sign with Dallas, reports circulated about the bad blood between Jordan and Chris Paul. But Paul not only was part of the contingent to assure Jordan he is wanted and needed, he cut short a Caribbean vacation with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade that included a photo of CP3, LeBron and DWade riding an inflatable banana boat.

You can’t make this stuff up. And isn’t it great the Grizzlies are on the outside of all of it?

Soon enough, the real game playing begins. And while it’s way too early to make final predictions for the next NBA season, it is never too soon for a few words about the Western Conference, which only looks tougher than when the season ended with the Golden State Warriors winning the NBA championship:

The San Antonio Spurs: For Grizzlies fans, nothing is more disconcerting than evidence that the Spurs might have one last rodeo in them.

LaMarcus Aldridge comes in on a long-term deal and in case you didn’t notice last season, Tim Duncan still has game left and can do the interior work defensively that Aldridge won’t. Kawhi Leonard has a new max deal and a Defensive Player of the Year Award, David West left $11 million on the table to come play with the Spurs, and point guard Tony Parker and pain-in-the-butt Manu Ginobili return. The early co-favorite in the West along with the ...

Golden State Warriors: Locked up forward Draymond Green long term, so the core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Green are back along with Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. More than capable of defending their title.

Oklahoma City Thunder: If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both healthy – and that’s proven to be a big if for a while now – they can at least spoil someone’s dream if not realize their own.

Los Angeles Clippers: The return of Jordan gives the Clippers three All-Stars in the starting lineup, led by the vastly improved Blake Griffin. The Clippers choked away a 3-1 playoff series lead in losing to Houston, but maybe veteran free-agent signee Paul Pierce (won a title in Boston with Clips coach Doc Rivers) can teach these underachievers how to win at a high level.

Memphis Grizzlies: The competitive era continues in Memphis with Gasol’s re-signing and signing Brandan Wright to replace departed backup center Kosta Koufos. No reason the Grizzlies can’t win 50-plus games and be a tough out in the playoffs again. But the addition of ex-Clipper Matt Barnes is a small attempt at best to address perimeter shooting. The Grizzlies still lack a feared 3-point threat and that keeps them outside the ring of most serious contenders for now.

Houston Rockets: Props for the comeback against the Clippers, but James Harden & Co. are in the Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies pack and maybe at the back of it.

New Orleans Pelicans: Did what they had to do by ensuring Anthony Davis is theirs long term and they again will be a playoff team. But it’s difficult to see them making a big move forward.

The Rest: Portland lost Aldridge, Dallas lost out on Jordan, and thus the spunky Utah Jazz might have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs in the eighth spot.

Meantime, we trust Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace is working the phones and that a trade of some consequence is still possible. That kind of drama, Grizzlies fans would welcome.