The Memphis Grizzlies will have to grit and grind without their most essential player for perhaps the full season. According to a Tuesday report from Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial-Appeal, reigning All-NBA First Team center Marc Gasol has broken a bone in his right foot and will miss a lengthy but indeterminate amount of time, potentially the rest of the season.
It's a devastating blow to the 30-22 Grizzlies in part because it may have been avoidable. Gasol started Monday's home overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers despite a known problem with his foot, although team officials said that it was not at risk of reinjury.
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Tillery's report has more:
Medical tests revealed a mid-foot fracture and the 7-footer could miss the remainder of this season. He has been ruled out indefinitely. It is unclear exactly when Gasol suffered the injury.
Last Saturday, Gasol and Griz coach Dave Joerger acknowledged that Gasol was playing with an injury. Gasol started Monday night but departed late in the first quarter of the Grizzlies’ 112-106 overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Gasol was cleared to play and not at risk to further injure himself.
“It’s certainly not great for Marc and his family. I know he’s disappointed,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “It’s bad for our team. This is a tight bunch of dudes. They care about each other. It hurts everybody. Marc is a guy who lays it out there for his teammates and the fans. We’re going to fight, scratch and claw.”
“I have some issues, but you have to push through it,” Gasol said last Saturday after a home loss to Dallas. “I’m never going to use not being 100 percent as an excuse. It’s just not me. I’m going to push through it and give whatever I have to my team. That’s how I’ve always been, and that’s how it’s going to be.”
It's a very unfortunate outcome for the Grizzlies and the 31-year-old Gasol, now in the first season of the five-year max contract he signed this summer. Although his numbers are down from last season, Gasol still leads the team in scoring at 16.6 ppg and has acquitted himself well overall with a 17.9 PER, roughly in line with his career average. However, the stats don't communicate everything Gasol does for Memphis — he's both scorer and facilitator, their defensive linchpin, and the closest thing this hardworking outfit has to a superstar. There's a reason he averages nearly three minutes per game more than any other player on the roster.
If Gasol does miss the full season, then it wouldn't be shocking to see the Grizzlies drop out of the playoffs entirely. They occupy the No. 5 spot in the West right now but sit just 4 1/2 games ahead of the No. 9 Blazers, a young, freshly constructed team that appears to be growing stronger and more confident every week. The No. 8 Utah Jazz have struggled with their own injury issues this season, but they have seen several players step into larger roles with success and look capable of out-playing the Grizzlies with Gasol in street clothes.
Meanwhile, Memphis will have to rely on role players like the 6-8 JaMychal Green and journeyman Ryan Hollins to take many of Gasol's minutes. Offseason acquisition and per-minute dynamo Brandan Wright will be asked to take on a larger role, as well, but he's been out since November with a knee issue and does not have an exact return date, although it figures to be soon based on December estimates. Joerger could also play smaller lineups more often with Zach Randolph at center or on the bench, but the Grizzlies lack capable outside shooters and are not equipped to play fast for long stretches of games.
Gasol is so essential to the Grizzlies' identity and plans that their season likely depends more on the length of his absence than what they do while he's gone. If he doesn't suit up for them again in 2015-16, the franchise could miss the postseason for the first time since 2010.
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