Hustle and Flow

Pau Gasol is the most slept-on All-Star in the NBA today. After making last year’s Western squad, the Memphis Grizzlies’ seven-footer spent his summer taking MVP honors at the Basketball World Championships in Japan where his Spanish team captured the gold medal.

Born in the Barcelona province of Sant Boi de Llobregat, the low-key Gasol comes from a family steeped in the medical profession. His mother is a doctor, his father a nurse, and Gasol himself is intent on becoming a doctor himself once his NBA career is over.

Gasol was drafted third in the 2001 NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, right behind semi-busts Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler and 23 slots ahead of Spurs sleeper pick Tony Parker. Gasol is the first Spanish player to make the All-Star Game and considered by his countrymen to be the greatest Spanish baller ever. Much like Tim Duncan, Gasol’s quiet demeanor and small-market base have been his greatest detriments, and almost nobody noticed when he was named Rookie of the Year in 2002.

When asked to name players with skills comparable Gasol, Spurs sparkplug Manu Ginobili offered a couple of options. “Maybe `Kevin` Garnett because of his style. I think it would be a good choice, maybe his game is more based in shooting from the outside, while Pau tries first to score close to the rim,” Ginobili said on “`Chris` Bosh is younger than him with a great future in the NBA, he is much like Pau in some aspects.”

Despite averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds a game for his career, Gasol has never led Memphis to a single playoff win, let alone a series victory. Following the Grizzlies’ recent 111-66 thrashing at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, Gasol voiced his mounting frustration with his current squad, almost embracing the trade rumors that had him moving to New Jersey for Vince Carter. “We were just careless,” said Gasol on after the contest. “We didn’t have the urge or spirit to compete. That is what is most frustrating.

“That is a challenge that we all need to take up,” Gasol continued. “We are not a heavy, big team but need to put bodies on people and be more aggressive. The deal is, we don’t know what we’re doing. We need to get together and play as a team. We’re taking too many quick shots and not playing as a team.”

Under new head coach Tony Barone, Sr., the Grizzlies are searching for answers and hoping that little touches like allowing players to once again wear headbands and play their own music in the locker room and weight room will help boost team morale. Barone has also implemented an up-tempo offense while invoking former Grizzlies Coach Hubie Brown’s defensive quirks, including tracking deflections.  When Memphis arrives in San Antonio they will be greeted by a veteran team facing some serious challenges of their own.

The Spurs are in an unenviable, unique place at the moment. They’re weak at home, lack a true center, and many hoops pundits are already declaring that if San Antonio doesn’t make some kind of trade, the team has little chance of competing with Dallas and Phoenix in the post-season. The Mavs and Suns have been getting plenty of pull in the league this season, based on their gaudy records and younger talent, and for some reason the Spurs haven’t looked like the Spurs. Blame Pop, blame the synthetic ball, or blame Eva Longoria and the pending nuptials with T.P., but in many instances these Spurs appear unmotivated. As Phil Jackson emoted in those cheesy credit card commercials, the fourth ring is always the hardest to come by.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has publicly stated that this Spurs unit is sorely lacking when it comes to effort on the defensive end.  The trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili has already captured two NBA crowns and came one foul away from making it to the Finals last season.  If a trade is indeed imminent the triple-threat core of the team must remain intact, but consider how much better the Spurs would be if someone like the aged yet defensive minded, and all around good guy, Dikembe Mutombo was anchoring the paint behind Duncan.  Stranger things have happened and this is, after all, the franchise that traded George Gervin to the Bulls for David Greenwood.

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