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Given his brilliant fit with the Memphis Grizzlies’ identity, and the undeniable success their marriage has seen over the past few years, including Zach Randolph on this list feels blasphemous.
But after taking a step back and analyzing Randolph’s relationship with his team a little closer, you’ll see his inclusion here makes quite a bit of sense.
Randolph is 32 years old. He’s also Memphis’ highest paid player, owed $35.1 million over the next two seasons (including a $16.9 million player option in 2015). He’ll enter next season as arguably the third best player on the Grizzlies roster, behind Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
Memphis’ management understands how important he is to the team’s contemporary structure, but they also know Randolph is in the latter stage of his career, worth a ton of money and inconsistent on the defensive end.
Should they choose to trade Randolph, Memphis has Ed Davis (who posted a player efficiency rating of 18.1 with the Toronto Raptors last season before being traded to the Grizzlies) and Kosta Koufos (a 24-year-old 7-footer who started 81 games for the Denver Nuggets last season) on board to presumably slide in beside Marc Gasol.
Are those two players good enough to keep Memphis afloat as a title contender? On the offensive end, probably not.
But giving them more minutes and factoring in whatever Memphis receives in return for Randolph could keep the team competitive in the short term, while simultaneously extending the Gasol/Conley core’s window in the future.
While Randolph is obviously productive on the offensive glass, and a fatal force facing up a defender below the free-throw line, he’s already a borderline liability on the defensive end.
Last season Memphis was a smidgen better defensively when Randolph sat, holding opponents to 0.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than when he played, per NBA.com/Stats.
He struggles mightily defending the pick-and-roll, and the San Antonio Spurs and Tony Parker turned him into a turnstile during the Western Conference Finals.
It feels inconceivable for the Memphis Grizzlies to advance far in the Western Conference without one of their best players, but this team adapted its basketball identity due to a financial constraint once before (after trading Rudy Gay), and it’s possible they do so again.