Pau Gasol trade to Lakers spurred Grizzlies' current playoff success
The Lakers had just acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and the rights to Pau's brother Marc, who the Lakers drafted with a second-round pick in 2007. The move immediately softened Kobe Bryant's frustration about the team lacking a championship roster, caused Phil Jackson to admit he could never see the trade scenario happening and prompted NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith to argue the Lakers should immediately throw a championship parade, even if it was in mid-February.
Outside of the giddy excitement surrounding L.A., however, sat a skeptic in Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who was wondering why the Grizzlies would agree to such a transaction. "What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension," Popovich said at the time. "There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade."
Popovich has since softened his stance, telling the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery last year the deal actually made sense in a long-term perspective since the move gave Memphis salary-cap relief and Marc Gasol evolved into an All-Star center. There was definitely a hint of irony that the Grizzlies upset the Spurs in a first-round series in six games to open the 2011 NBA playoffs, becoming just the fourth No. 8-seeded team to beat a top-seeded club in the playoffs and second to do so in a seven-game series.
Pau Gasol, whose rooting interest points more to his brother than following his former team, immediately texted Marc, congratulating him for his 14.2 points and 12.3 points a game averages in the series. What was left unsaid entailed Pau's revelation after Saturday's practice that he was glad the Lakers didn't face the Grizzlies in the first round for reasons beyond wanting to see his brother advance far in the playoffs.
"I also didn't want to cross with them because I would have to beat him basically, beat him and his team," said Gasol, who believes the Grizzlies are "capable" of beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals beginning Sunday. "In another way, I thought they would've been extremely challenging and would've tested us and given us a lot of problems. But we would have to really tune into our really best to beat them. That would've put us into another level like Oklahoma City did last year. They would've been a heck of an opponent."
That marks a fairly quick evolution for the Grizzlies, who at the time of the trade had been derided as a small-market team trying to cut corners and pinch pennies. No doubt, the Lakers have largely benefitted from Pau's arrival, marked by three consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and two consecutive championships. The trade also came on the heels of Pau Gasol guiding the Grizzlies to three postseason appearances in six seasons, only to be swept, 4-0, in all three. But trading Pau to the Lakers also paved the way in assembling a roster that carried them past the Spurs with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur, Shane Battier, Tony Allen, Hamed Haddadi, Greivis Vasquez and Sam Young. Randolph scoring 17 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter in the series-clinching win over San Antonio proved only fitting since he was the main acquisition the Grizzlies made thanks to creating salary-cap space.
"It's not easy to put a team together like they have," said Pau Gasol, who described the Grizzlies' defense and team unity as excellent. "Hopefully they will be able to keep it. That will be the challenge. I think they are [capable], and are making a big effort on doing that. So hopefully the players will want to stay and not move on to another team. We'll see how far they can go. They're capable of beating another good team in Oklahoma City."
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Photo: Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies chat before the 2009 West All-Star team began practice. Credit: John G. Mabanglo / EPA