After holding on to relevance as long as they could, the Memphis Grizzlies decided to kick-start the rebuilding process by trading franchise legends Marc Gasol and Mike Conley ahead of last season’s trade deadline. Conley ended up staying through the season before he was dealt to the Utah Jazz, but Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round pick.
Gasol, of course, went on to help the Raptors win their first title in franchise history, but he very nearly took a much different path. Before they pivoted to the Raptors trade, the Grizzlies were closing in on a deal with the Charlotte Hornets, and according to Rod Boone, it fell apart at the last minute because Gasol refused to commit to the Hornets past the 2018-19 season. Via The Athletic:
The Hornets should’ve better planned for the possibility Walker could play himself out of their price range and budget. Besides not securing a good package for Walker, there was a failure to upgrade the team at the trade deadline. One more player could’ve been that extra boost the Hornets needed and from what I understand it was really close with Marc Gasol before he signed with Toronto.
I don’t know what they offered specifically, but I do know they were going to pull the trigger on that trade until it fell through because Gasol wouldn’t commit to Charlotte beyond the 2018-19 season. He had a player option for 2019-20, which he has since exercised to stay in Toronto after helping the Raptors win the title in June. So it’s hard to knock Gasol for that decision. But not giving Walker some reinforcement was a domino in the whole process of him leaving.
A few months removed, and following the conclusion of 2019 free agency, it’s pretty fascinating to look back and see all the ripple effects from that trade falling apart.
Would the Raptors have tried to squeeze in another move ahead of the deadline to boost their title chances? If not, would they have still won their first championship with Valanciunas, Wright and Miles around instead of Gasol?
If Leonard doesn’t lead the Raptors to a title, is his free agency process anywhere near as complicated? And would he have had the juice to force the hand of the Clippers to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Then there’s the Hornets and Kemba Walker. Could they have snuck into the playoffs last season with Gasol on board for the last few months? If they did, and with Gasol committed, would Walker have been willing to stay with the team he’d spent his whole career with?
It’s amazing how one small decision by Gasol and the Hornets has affected the league so dramatically in such a short amount of time. In the grand scheme of things, Gasol turning down the Hornets won’t be remembered as a defining moment that will go down in NBA history books, but it had a much bigger impact than anyone could have expected at the time.