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VOL. 131 | NO. 29 | Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Gasol Just Did What We Really Wanted -- Played

By Don Wade

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We want our pro athletes tough and, if possible, indestructible.

Makes us feel like they’re actually entitled to their millions.

It works out well for everyone. Player wins. Team wins. Fans win.

Marc Gasol having a fractured right foot is a loss on all counts and, contrary to what some would have you believe, probably wasn’t going to be avoided.

That’s just the reality.

Gasol left Monday’s Feb. 8 overtime loss to Portland in the first quarter. And he was playing well, already scoring 11 points.

So the idea he had no business being out there, well, it’s very convenient now.

But confirmation that he has a broken foot hurts. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley had stood at his locker after the Portland game and talked about how getting Gasol to rest was impossible.

“We beg him to sit down,” Conley said. “In practices, we beg him to sit down, in games, to get a little bit of rest, and he just wants to play through it.”

And so Gasol tried to push through this soreness in his massive right foot, which bears half the load supporting his 7-foot-1, 255-pound frame, and it proved to be too much.

Gasol is 31 years old and there’s a lot of mileage on those feet, even though he took this summer off from playing with the Spanish National Team.

If there was a guaranteed way to prevent these things from happening every NBA team would be doing it. There isn’t.

When the Grizzlies announced Gasol’s injury in an official team statement, general manager Chris Wallace said: “Marc will be out indefinitely and a further update will be provided after the All-Star Break.”

That’s likely code for he’ll be back later rather than sooner.

Meanwhile, the trade deadline is coming up Feb. 18. Twitter, of course, was immediately ablaze with would-be GMs suggesting the Grizzlies’ brain trust turn all focus to the future. Assume the Grizzlies will now tumble to the bottom of the playoff order and draw Golden State in the first round. Or maybe even miss the playoffs.

So “blow it up” in NBA parlance and trade every asset that’s not Gasol or Conley for whatever you can get back.

That’s both rash and no longer as workable a strategy as it once was. The salary cap is rising so much next year that players with expiring contracts – yes, looking at you Jeff Green and Courtney Lee – are less valuable to other teams than they might have been.

So, there may not be much the Grizzlies can do even if they want to do it.

Let’s also get over the idea that this year set up for a long playoff run. There was never going to be a good first-round match-up anyway. If the Grizzlies held on to the 5 seed they’d get the Clippers – beatable, but a tall task. Fall to 6 and get Oklahoma City and have even less of a chance to escape the first round. Drop to 7 and get San Antonio and the Alamo.

So if you thought the Grizzlies had a chance to get back to the Western Conference Finals this season, well, you just haven’t been paying attention.

That said, the franchise’s big rebuild isn’t that far away in any case. This season was a chance to at least have a last hurrah – even if a sixth straight playoff appearance ended in a first-round exit.

Now that’s even in question.

But the immediate schedule after the All-Star Break is favorable. And two years ago the Grizzlies survived not having Gasol for 23 games when he injured his knee. So there’s precedent for overcoming.

And for the record, there is little sense in blaming coach Dave Joerger because Gasol was playing Monday. No, it’s not the decision I would have preferred been made. Even before Gasol was limping off the court, there was a strong opinion that this was a great opportunity to give Gasol a head start on the All-Star Break.

But who’s to say it would have made any difference? And Gasol would have had to agree to it. That wasn’t going to happen. Heck, less than a year ago, Conley played against the Warriors in the playoffs with a broken face.

“We’ll play through damn near anything just for our teammates,” Conley said. “We sacrifice a lot and that’s what he’s about.”

And in case you’ve forgotten, that’s the narrative that we want.

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