Down and out

DENVER – Pau Gasol had his feet buried in buckets of freezing water, his wrist wrapped with ice. He was some sorry sight late Monday night at the Pepsi Center – all sore bones, empty eyes and beleaguered spirit. Another embarrassing loss, another night in the staggering freefall of the Memphis Grizzlies.

"Apparently, I'm getting criticized for wanting to be in a better situation, for wanting to win," Gasol said.

Hours later on Tuesday, Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley was on his cell phone, acknowledging that his 7-foot star and his agent, Arn Tellem, had asked Heisley and general manager Jerry West for a trade.

Gasol wants out, the owner said, and West will try to make it happen.

Only the Grizzlies won't give him away.

"The fact that Pau would like a trade to somebody who has the chance to be a champion here in the short run – that's a very natural situation for him," Heisley said. "Pau has been very good to us. I don't have a problem with him saying he'd like to go to a championship team.

"But I don't have any fire sale to get rid of him. He's our franchise player, and if (trading him) would do something good for our franchise, move us forward in our plans, then we'll make that move."

West confirmed to the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he had preliminary discussions with Chicago, but Bulls G.M. John Paxson has to think long and hard about breaking up his talented core of young players with the belief that Gasol can be the cornerstone of a championship contender. Do you give up Luol Deng and Ben Gordon to gamble on Gasol's greatness? Kirk Hinrich?

Nets president Rod Thorn has been dying to trade for a low-post presence, but he's short on bargaining chips with Nenad Krstic and Richard Jefferson out after surgery. Still, as the Feb. 22 trade deadline nears, there will be teams trying to make a move for Gasol, who has $60 million left over the next four years of his contract. After breaking his foot in the world championships while playing for Spain last summer, Gasol missed 22 games to start the season. Memphis lost 17 of them.

With Shane Battier traded to Houston on draft night, this franchise had no anchors. It has no way to sustain itself. The Grizzlies are 10-32 and making the most inspired run in the league for Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

What has angered Gasol has been the suggestion that he has been belligerently slow to get back into shape, to give his best, since returning to the floor.

"I don't want this to upset me to a point where it affects my personal life and my professional life," he said. "I think it's easy right now to talk bad about me. I love Memphis. I've been here six years. I'm still competing. People are second-guessing my professionalism, my willingness to work. That's really bad. That's a shame.

"It's affecting everybody around this team," he said of the swirl of controversy. "And we don't need any more negativity than we already have."

Heisley desperately wants to sell the team and had an embarrassing episode with the ownership bid of Brian Davis and Christian Laettner, who could never raise the funds to complete the purchase. The team has cut payroll, gone young and almost come to a stand-still as a franchise. After West fired Mike Fratello last month, there was no coaching search. West merely moved Tony Barone downstairs from the front office.

Everything is on hold with the Grizzlies.

"Of course, it's a distraction," Barone said. "The business end of this is something you're constantly massaging. It's tough on Pau. It's tough on the players. It's tough on the franchise."

Most believe West is on his way out at season's end, and that's probably best for everyone. Sources say that West has increasingly lost patience with what's left of the playoff program constructed under his watch with Hubie Brown. More and more, he sounds frustrated with the modern player to colleagues around the league, especially with those whom he's brought to Memphis.

Now, Gasol has had it with the mess there. He knows what's coming for this franchise. Almost everyone does.

Last one out, turn off the lights.

"Little things can change the whole picture," Gasol said. "That's why people look differently at (things) and see where the mistakes have been made. There's just a consequence of different actions. It's uncomfortable right now.

"I wanted this team to be great."

Too late for that in Memphis, where a good thing has gone so bad.