Monday, December 22, 2008

The Return of Pau

I’m (Chris) not going to sugarcoat it. I’m not going to hide it. I like to jeer. I like to boo. It’s probably the thing I’ve yelled the most at sporting events, right up there with “Hey, beer man,” and “Pass the ball ____.” That blank is now filled by Tyreke, although it’s been occupied by Bobby, Chucky, Damon, Bonzi and Dajuan.

The boo is the universal method of fan disapproval. It’s simple, it’s easy, and everyone can do it. The boo is most utilized in the following scenarios: the ref makes a bad call or no-call, the home team (or coach) is sucking to a high degree, or if the opposing team has an especially unpoplular villain.

Tonight at FedExForum, scenario three will be in effect. With the introduction of Pau Gasol, a chorus of boos will great him. Welcome back to Memphis Pau, here’s what we think of you.

Now, some out there will get on their high horse and claim that Pau doesn’t deserve the boo, that it’s a low-class move that shouldn’t occur. Pau should be greeted with a few gulf claps instead, a retarded way of saying, “Thanks for playing here for a few years.” The people that make that claim are idiots. Screw that, they’re f’ing morons. (And why should we even listen to Graham’s opinion on what Grizz fans should do. The guy worked for the Grizzlies for like 10 years or something and then told me last week he wasn’t a fan for the past 6 years, and now he’s a Blazers fan. Can you really trust a guy like that?)

Why should Pau get anything other than the boo? Only two types of players get applause during the visiting team’s introduction: former University of Memphis players (see Rose, Derrick) and former Grizzlies fan favorites (see Battier, Shane) that have moved on. Does Pau fit either of those categories? Hell no, he doesn’t.

If Pau wanted to hear some cheers on Monday night, he should’ve done something to endear himself to the city to earn the fan favorite status. He should’ve played fearless, passionate, and ambitious instead of being a sulking, half-assed Euro baby. If the Grizz needed points in a big game, Pau shrunk. If they needed a key rebound, the “power” forward would come up short. If they needed defense, he gave up points. I saw the guy for multiple seasons, even defended him as well. But the truth of the matter is, Pau wasn’t good enough, didn’t try hard enough and ultimately, showed more passion in half a season with the Lakers (and every summer with Spain) than he did in more than 6 seasons with Memphis. If anyone needs a reminder of the Pau era in Memphis, fast forward to the 1:45 mark of the video below.

The Pau-defenders out there (aka Graham) will point to Gasol’s numbers in Memphis and say that he did all he could while surrounded by average talent. I’m sure he’ll say that Pau is providing the same services in LA, numbers wise, that he did in Memphis. I’m sure he’ll say that Memphis fans shouldn’t blame Pau for the organization’s failures. And to that, I say, boo.

I’m (Graham) really not looking forward to Tuesday morning. I’m really not looking forward to going onto the Commercial Appeal’s Web site and reading about the boos that rained down on Pau Gasol the night before. I’m not looking forward to critics blogging about how glorious it was that Pau got booed out of the building. And I’m not looking forward to my blogmate Chris reveling in it all.

Because quite simply, Pau shouldn’t booed.

Simply put, Pau Gasol is the best player in team history. He’s the all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks and many other categories. He was the team’s first Rookie of the Year. The First All-Star. And he was remarkably consistent. He never averaged fewer than 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds or 1.7 blocks in a full season.

So if Shane Battier comes back to a hero’s welcome and a poster night, doesn’t Pau at least deserve applause? I’m not saying he should get a standing ovation and a tear-jerking video tribute, but he at least deserves to be recognized for his contributions.

Instead, there's a chance he’ll get booed. And really, for no good reason. When people criticize Pau, they always state the same things:

-The Contract. Yeah, he got a max deal. Was he a max player? Probably not. But no one forced the Grizzlies to hand it over to him. Pau asked for it, they gave it to him. Was he supposed to say no? The Grizzlies could have negotiated, but they didn’t, and that’s on them. If you go to buy a car, say what the hell and ask for $10,000 off the sticker price and they give it to you, are you going to reject it? And if you were offered $86 million to do your job, wouldn’t you take it? Of course. He negotiated, and he won. You can’t hold that against him.

-The injury at the Worlds. I mean, come on, that was just dumb luck. Dozens and dozens of NBA players have played internationally in the last 20 years, and one got hurt. It was bound to happen. It was just unfortunate that it happened to him as he was about to start the first year of the aforementioned max deal. But to hold it against him is ridiculous.

-The alleged trade demand. Say what you will about it, but he handled that situation as well as can be possibly expected. He did it quietly, face to face with management. Even then, he never said anything bad about the organization. He shut up and played. Was he right to demand the trade in the first place? Probably not. But he took a bad situation and handled it well.

-His lack of clutch play. That’s a fair point. There weren’t too many times when he carried the team on his back. I’ll acknowledge that.

Ultimately though, his downfall was that he could never be what some fans wanted him to be. When some Memphis fans thought “power forward”, they thought Karl Malone- burly guys who elbow people out of the way. They couldn’t appreciate a different kind of power forward, one with superior court vision and passing skills. Pau wasn’t going to run anyone over, but he was equally as effective as those who did.

And despite his skills not lending themselves to traditional post play, more often than not that’s what he was asked to play. The Grizzlies at times did everything to turn him into that player- putting down in the block and forcing him to try to overpower people. For crying out loud, they played the guy at center, where he really had no business being.

But despite it all, he always produced, regardless of style. When Hubie Brown had the team running in the 50-win season of 2003-04 (before Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, by the way), Pau averaged 17.7 points despite playing a career-low in minutes. When Fratello took over and went strictly to a halfcourt game, Pau averaged 20.4 points in the 2005-06 season, and added 4.6 assists, a career-high. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. He’d get the ball on the block or at the elbow, and if he was defended one-on-one he’d spin by for a layup or dunk. If he was doubled, he’d kick it out and let the shooters take open threes. Opponents knew what was coming, and he was effective anyway. Isn’t that what people want from a star player?

Maybe Pau was never an NBA A-list superstar. But he’s the best Memphis ever had. And he doesn’t deserve to be booed.



Brian said...

Oh boy, where do I start? I am on the same page as Chris here. I guess what I can say is that when you use probably not in two paragraphs defending him, probably not good arguments. Also being in agreement on what is probably the biggest point of the fan's disdain for Pau, well, now you really have no leg to stand on do you?
Pau was paid to be the man, never played like the man. Most of his great numbers came in the first half or in garbage time during blowouts. He couldn't be counted on when the game was on the line. My favorite was that great d he played, turning average players into all stars for the night. I still contend for every point Pau scored he gave up at least a point if not more. I have on thing to say to Pau, BOOOOOOOOOOOOO

My Blog said...

There weren’t too many times when he carried the team on his back.