The thing about covering sports is that eventually you're going to end up in a big scrum standing around a player who is saying things but not really saying things, answering questions but not really answering questions. In my experience, the truly revelatory conversations with players happen one-on-one or maybe two-on-one, when the cameras are out of their faces and they're just talking about basketball, or maybe off the record about who they don't like on the other team, or really anything but a video or audio quote that's going to spread like an Internet wildfire if they screw it up. So, big media availability events aren't always the most productive for the kind of writing that I do. I'm not writing a column that needs a ton of quotes about "both teams played hard" and "we just have to do better" or "this is all about my teammates."
But... there are times where it's useful to hear what guys have to say, to gauge their mood and their temperature. With a very important offseason—especially regarding whether Marc Gasol is going to remain a Memphis Grizzly or seek employment elsewhere—now underway, yesterday was such an event. Every player on the Grizzlies roster was available to the media yesterday afternoon, and every one of them was asked whether he thought Marc Gasol was staying. They all said some variation of "I hope so" or "I think so." Gasol, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, didn't answer.
To be sure, he said a lot of stuff, but he is very careful when speaking to the media, very aware, and he's not the kind of guy to make guarantees and then back out of them. Which, wouldn't it be better for him to say "I love this city but anything is possible" and stay than "I'll never go anywhere" and leave?
Here's the thing that we've been avoiding all season long, some harder than others: there is no guarantee that Marc Gasol is in a Grizzlies uniform next season. Is it likely? I think so, but I don't think it's a sure thing. I think Gasol wants to win games and wants to win a title, but I don't think he's just going to bail to whatever playoff team needs a center and has cap space. I think he cares about Mike Conley and Zach Randolph. We know he cares about Memphis—-he even mentioned the fact that his whole family has been here since 2001. But he's got some decisions to make, and from everything he said yesterday, it sounds like he's going to sit down with his wife and they're going to come up with a plan for the next few years of their lives, and whatever he decides will be what he decides.
He left an awful lot of doors open. He said he has faith in the Grizzlies organization to do things the right way, but he also said the franchise would "be fine with or without him. It was fine when Tony Massenburg was here." (Those who remember The Massenburg Era might disagree.) He said he can't imagine playing in another team's uniform, but that "anything can happen; it's the NBA."
Things get weird around these free agency decisions. Teams start courting guys, making pitches. I expect the Griz front office staff to be in Spain at some point. I figure if the Spurs decide to seriously pursue him, Popovich and co. will be there too. The thing is this: he's crazy not to test the waters. He's got to see what's out there. We don't know what's going to happen between now and then that will sway his decision; maybe Pau will take him to an opera and he'll be moved by what he sees to sign a max contract with the Sixers.
Zach Randolph and Vince Carter—both guys who have been in this situation before—said that ultimately when players make these kinds of decisions it's not just about the money; it's about comfort with a situation and whether you as a player want to start over again; whether you like where you are or want to find out what it's like somewhere else. When asked how big of a factor money would be, Gasol himself said he thought basketball players were overpaid for what they do anyway—-that they deserve what they get because the pie from which they're getting a piece is so big, but that ultimately they're playing a game for a living. If he leaves the Grizzlies, it won't be because he needs a new gold-lined swimming pool.
We've got a long summer ahead of us, up until Gasol's signature is on a contract with the team he'll play for next year. Until then, the Grizzlies can't really do anything else with the roster because they don't know what they'll have. Yesterday was the kickoff to six weeks or so of rampant speculation during which no actual decision can be finalized, and at some point, we'll get tired of it, and we'll have to look back at what Gasol has actually said about it—and all of those quotes will have come from yesterday's media availability. And, in true Marc Gasol fashion, he said lots of stuff without saying anything one way or another about what he's going to do—which is as it should be.