SAN ANTONIO — The Memphis Grizzlies will not shift into rebuilding mode this season, general manager Chris Wallace told ESPN after the team’s losing streak was extended to nine games on Wednesday, two days after the firing of head coach David Fizdale.
Wallace was adamant that the Grizzlies, who fell to 7-13 after a 104-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, would not consider trading center Marc Gasol or point guard Mike Conley, the remaining cornerstones from the franchise’s streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances.
“We have no intention to trade Marc,” Wallace told ESPN when asked if the franchise might consider trading the 32-year-old big man. “We never seriously considered that at all. We never placed any calls to any teams in that regard. So that’s not happening.
“It’s not just Marc that this whole equation is about. It’s also Mike Conley when he comes back. We’ve got two guys among the elite in the league at their respective positions that are still very much in their window with an awful lot of tread left on their tires.”
Injuries have been a significant factor in the Grizzlies’ losing streak, with five planned rotation players sitting out the loss to the Spurs. Conley, 30, has missed the last seven games due to soreness in his left Achilles tendon and heel, and the team announced Wednesday that he would return in two to three weeks.
Wallace has acknowledged that friction between Gasol and Fizdale was a factor in the decision to fire the coach Monday, a day after Gasol was benched for the fourth quarter of a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. However, Wallace said an attempt to salvage Memphis’ season was the primary factor in the decision to fire Fizdale, who had a 50-51 record in his brief tenure.
Wallace remains optimistic that the Grizzlies can weather the current storm and compete for a playoff berth this season.
“We’re full speed ahead,” Wallace said. “We’ve been in the playoffs seven years in a row. We’ve got a team when fully healthy and we get everything together is more athletic, more versatile and more potent offensively than we’ve had for a number of years. Even though the going has been a little difficult early, there’s still 62 [games] to play. We believe in this team. We’re hoping – got our fingers crossed – that we’ll get everybody healthy soon.
“Our expectation always is to be a playoff team and have a chance to do some things when we get in there. We’re behind in the standings right now, but it’s a long way to go. When we get our guys back, I think we’ll surge.”
Gasol, a three-time All-Star who is averaging 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game but shooting a career-low 41.6 percent from the floor this season, said the possibility of rebuilding is not a subject that has come up during his recent discussions with Memphis management.
“Once you start asking about those things, your mind just kind of goes in a bad place and you start wondering and focusing on stuff that is not important and not in your control,” Gasol told ESPN. “I’d rather figure out how to deal with all my teammates, how to help these guys. That’s my main focus right now. I don’t care about anything else but to make this team better.”
Gasol and Conley are the two remaining members of Memphis’ “Core Four,” the collection of cornerstones who led the Grizzlies to seven straight playoff appearances, which is tied for the second-longest active postseason streak behind the Spurs. Power forward Zach Randolph and shooting guard Tony Allen left in free agency during the offseason after the Grizzlies declined to make them offers.
Gasol appreciated the commitment from Memphis management, but he said can’t worry about things that are out of his control and understands that plans can change in the NBA.
“You know how brutal and how the reality is in the NBA and how much things can change fast, so you’ve got to really do the most and get the most out of every minute that you’re able to,” Gasol said. “Obviously, you appreciate the confidence and the trust that they’re showing in myself and Mike, because maybe the next step once you try to fix it by replacing the head coach, then it’s your big guns, try to change them, too. That may be the natural step, but they’re sticking with us.
“They believe in what we believe in, and they’re giving us that confidence, but we have to produce. And producing is not just numbers. In our situation right now, it’s more. It’s not just that. It’s obviously winning, because that’s what we’re used to here. It’s also teaching guys the way of doing things and the way to go about ourselves as a team. At the same time, we need to win.”