1. Did Marc Gasol just play his final game in his adopted American home of Memphis?
Stein: That would be a rather dramatic conclusion to draw, based on the available evidence, but here's the thing:
Maybe not even Gasol himself.
And in the event Big Spain does have his looming foray into free agency all secretly mapped out, chances are he hasn't shared it with anyone yet apart from his representatives and brother Pau.
Marc Gasol's fondness for the Bluff City has been well-chronicled. He went to high school there when Pau was playing for the Grizzlies, wound up in the Grizzlies' organization via the same unforgettably controversial 2007 trade that sent Pau to the Lakers and, through an increasingly maniacal devotion to getting fitter and fitter, has seemingly shed half a person since his teen years to evolve into maybe the league's best two-way center.
The Grizzlies are thus understandably jittery about Gasol's looming turn on the open market and will remain so until they have him re-signed to a new max deal. San Antonio, specifically, is the team they fear most.
Yet it's premature to try to establish the Spurs as some sort of favorite to steal him away, since they're also widely expected to focus first on the guy perceived as this summer's more gettable superstar: Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge.
What is obvious to everyone some six weeks out, especially the Grizzlies, is that Gasol is irreplaceable. The mere threat of losing him is chilling, because there's no telling how long it would take Memphis to recover.
Most rival teams favor Memphis to ultimately win the Gasol sweepstakes because A) Gasol's ties to the city are legitimately deep and B) he's the unquestioned starting center on the NBA's "I Just Want To Win" team. Which is another way of saying that few league observers can picture him leaving when there isn't an obvious landing spot that immediately positions Gasol to do more winning than he's currently doing with the Grizz -- unless Tim Duncan retires to create a gaping hole in the San Antonio frontcourt.
Let's face it: If the Grizzlies could just find the means to acquire a quality shooter or two to add to their "Core Four" of Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, based on all the problems they managed to give Golden State without a long-ball threat, they'd presumably be closer to real contention than any of the teams expected to pursue Gasol hardest in free agency.
Knicks? Lakers? Who else besides San Antonio can mount a legit threat?
These Grizzlies just won 55 games and dragged the mighty Warriors to six games in the second round despite their obvious shortcomings on the perimeter, as well as the fact they had a team on fumes by the time Steph Curry and Co. were done with them thanks to the injuries carried by Conley (face, foot, etc.) and Allen (hamstring).
Yet we repeat: Gasol has given his own coaches and bosses no hints. Unlike Aldridge, who, according to league sources, hasn't been afraid to share the occasional whisper with a few well-placed folks about the prospect of leaving Portland, Gasol is saying pretty much nothing.
So it's going to be a long 43 days until July 1 for the Tennessee incumbents.
2. Will Jeff Green opt in for 2015-16 or opt for free agency?
The working expectation on Beale Street at the minute is that Green will decide to exercise his $9.2 million player option for next season after falling well short of the dream of being the final piece of the puzzle that Memphis had when it acquired him from Boston in January.
Would he really dare to head into free agency after the Grizz so badly needed him to step into the void created in the starting lineup by Allen's injuries (and struggles once Andrew Bogut started guarding him) and Green didn't deliver?
That said --
Don't forget that Green is represented by the uber-aggressive David Falk. Rest assured, then, that Falk will have a strong handle on the sort of market that awaits Green come July 1, if he doesn't already.
Is there a team in circulation that would pay Green -- one of the league's perennial teases -- in the neighborhood he and Falk seek? Bet on Falk to find it if there is.
3. What about the wildly underrated Kosta Koufos?
Good things seemed to happen for the Grizzlies every time Koufos hit the hardwood in the Golden State series. He's always been an elite-yet-underpublicized rim protector, but the high visibility of a playoff encounter against the winningest team in the league brought some increased exposure to Koufos' knack for chipping in with some effective offense around the basket.
Even before Koufos' strong series, though, Memphis folks were well aware that keeping the 26-year-old was going to be mighty challenging. It's no secret within team circles that Koufos, while appreciative of the various tricks he's gleaned as the understudy to Gasol and Z-Bo, wants to be an NBA starter. If that opportunity presents itself elsewhere, on top of a healthy raise from Koufos' $3 million salary last season, well, you can do the math.
The Grizzlies' nightmare scenario, of course, is the prospect of Koufos attracting a lucrative offer early in free agency while Gasol is still deliberating. Keeping Koufos to play behind a re-signed Gasol would presumably be too pricey for the Grizz, but losing both in the same summer would naturally be a crusher.
And the reality is that Koufos is bound to draw considerable interest as an unrestricted free agent. Rim protection is his forte, but he also coped very well against Aldridge in the Portland series, and has not only proven very durable over the year but has quietly started nearly 150 games in his career. He's more seasoned than you think.
Memphis, mind you, signed off on the risk of losing both Gasol and Koufos without compensation when it rebuffed numerous trade proposals for Koufos during the season from the likes of Cleveland and Boston.
4. Can't the Grizzlies, in the name of stability, try to lock up Mike Conley for the long term before he ends up on the open market like Gasol?
The Grizzlies would love to.
Sources say, furthermore, that they've tried to engage Conley in extension talks. More than once.
But the five-year, $40 million pact they signed Conley to in 2010 -- openly second-guessed all over the NBA map at the time -- proved to be too shrewd. So the consensus starting point guard on the league's All-Underrated Team simply can't sign an extension, working from the figures on his current deal, that could come close to the sort of offers he's likely to attract as a 2016 free agent at the age of 28.
The Grizz, as a result, have no choice here. Conley is such a part of the furniture in the Grit/Grind World that you can safely presume his No. 11 will be raised to the rafters of the FedEx Forum someday. But it would be foolish for him to consent to an extension now, computing the increases from his current salary of $9-plus million, when he has the chance to test the market in a year at the same time that the NBA's salary cap is poised to jump from the high $60 million range into $90 million territory.
Which means that the Grizz can count on two nervy summers in a row.
5. What else do they need besides the obvious infusion of shooting?
More athleticism in the frontcourt would be an undeniable boost.
An injection of youth would be handy, too, since that "Core Four" we referenced -- even if the Grizz are fortunate enough to hang onto Gasol -- sports an average age of 31.
So priority No. 1 remains adding as much shooting with whatever is left financially after the re-signing of Gasol that team officials have been praying for since, oh, roughly last July 4th.
Memphis won't have significant flexibility if it can convince Gasol to stay, but let's see just how aggressive this team will be to improve the case around him. It was last May, upon announcing his dramatic U-turn in committing to Dave Joerger as his coach, that Grizz owner Robert Pera announced via Twitter that he would "open the checkbook and do whatever it takes to bring us closer to a championship organization."
You suspect Gasol is the one Pera needs to convince most.