Zach Randolph may be the heart and soul of the Memphis Grizzlies’ recent success and playoff runs, but if the Grizzlies brass has its way, he may not be in town much longer. Per Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling, Memphis has been shopping Randolph on the trade block, despite his desire to stay put.
Z-Bo is owed $17.8 million for the 2013-14 season and has a $16.5 million player option for 2014-15. He’s having a solid year, averaging 16.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 45.2 percent shooting, but he has definitely lost a step at 32 years old.
According to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, Randolph may opt out in the hopes of receiving one last big multi-year deal. Berger notes, though, that the Grizzlies are not out of the running to re-sign Randolph as a free agent.
Randolph has previously stated he’d like to retire in Memphis, per an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein, and his four previous seasons with the team have been some of the most successful in the franchise’s history, with Z-Bo leading the team to its first playoff series win against the San Antonio Spurs in 2011.
Unfortunately, the Grizz are struggling in 2013-14, sitting at 12-16 thanks to Marc Gasol’s knee sprain and some serious difficulties scoring the basketball.
While the desire to move Randolph’s hefty contract and not watch him walk away for nothing in free agency is certainly understandable, it is not the right move for this Memphis franchise.
To fully understand why Z-Bo should stay in Memphis, let’s look a little deeper at the situation, what Randolph means to the Grizzlies and what the team could realistically replace him with.
Potential Trade Returns
There are multiple directions the Grizzlies could go with a Randolph trade; they could try to get back another veteran piece they feel could better fit with their new direction, or they could obviously just try to get back as many possible future assets from a contender as possible.
Zwerling discusses the possibility of dealing for Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Pelicans, a move that would make plenty of sense for Memphis but probably not New Orleans.
Anderson is having a terrific year, averaging 20.4 points per game and shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range. He is also just 25 years old and locked into a manageable contract for the foreseeable future.
Unless the Pelicans receive a first-round pick, it would be foolish to trade Anderson for Z-Bo straight up.
|Randolph's stats over the last four seasons|
|2010-11 (75 games)||20.1 PPG||12.2 RPG||2.2 APG||50.3 FG%|
|2011-12 (28 games)||11.6||8.0||1.7||46.3|
|2012-13 (76 games)||15.4||11.2||1.4||46|
|2013-14 (26 games)||16.8||10.2||2.5||45.2|
|Randolph is still productive, but no longer a nightly 20-10 lock. (Per ESPN)|
Memphis needs help on the wing and with floor spacing, but Randolph has been a more productive player than Pierce this season, who has no ties to the city and could just bolt in the 2014 offseason.
Other options, like dealing Randolph for Pau Gasol or Carlos Boozer, might work financially, but they neither do much to raise Memphis’ current ceiling or set them up for the future.
Unfortunately, with his production slipping and his contract expiring, there may not be a huge market out there for Randolph. He has talent, but he's not the kind of player who is worth taking the risk on renting for a few months.
Memphis’ Current Situation
Memphis is sitting at 13th in the brutal Western Conference and three-and-a-half games out of the eighth seed, so it’s not like the Grizzlies have had much success with Z-Bo as their focal point.
However, the reasons for their struggles are pretty clear, as Gasol has been limited to just 13 games and a number of other players have been banged up as well.
Their defense is still elite, holding opponents to 97.3 points—the seventh best mark in the league—but they are scoring just 93.9 points per game, good for 26th overall.
Still, if Gasol returns healthy and the bench finds a few stable contributors, a playoff push is not unthinkable for Memphis.
Remember, this is basically the same team that made the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
Also, it’s easy to forget that the Grizzlies have a rookie head coach in Dave Joerger, who is still adjusting to the role and will almost certainly be better next season than he is this season.
The team could obviously end up as a seller on the trade market and fully embrace tanking for a high draft pick, but it is not quite as out of it as they seem.
Memphis has lost some tough, close games and has not played much of the season with a healthy roster, which obviously hurts its win total.
Additionally, it’s not as if Memphis has been a real hotbed of free-agent activity. The team has done a good job of retaining its drafted players but has rarely been able to do much on the open market.
Looking through the current roster, it is difficult to see where they would replace Z-Bo’s production. Ed Davis has not panned out and is starting to look like a career backup, and Kosta Koufos floundered with more offensive responsibility.
Jon Leuer played well when he got the opportunity, but he is more of a stretch-4 and not a banger like Randolph.
Randolph and Memphis
Perhaps the most important factor that should keep Randolph in Memphis is that he has built a relationship with the franchise, the fanbase and the city that no other NBA player has been able to.
Randolph came to the Grizzlies in a trade during the 2009 offseason, but since then, he has come to epitomize Memphis basketball.
His gritty, physical, no nonsense style of play meshes with the city’s blue-collar identity perfectly, and Randolph has also become a pillar in the city’s culture off the court as well.
Mayor A C Wharton declared Friday, Dec. 27 as “Zach Randolph Day” as a way of celebrating the former All-Star’s work in the Memphis community, per NBA.com.
Athletes nowadays rarely get as attached to a city like Randolph, and it is refreshing to see how he has embraced playing in a small market while many players still push to go to big cities.
Before Randolph came to Memphis, the Grizzlies had made the playoffs a few times with Pau Gasol, but they were an afterthought for most NBA fans. He helped them create an identity and emerge as one of the league’s more eccentric, likeable squads.
Randolph is a star whom the fans have bonded with and who, in turn, has bonded with the city. While it’s easy to just say, “The NBA is a business” in these situations, that undersells the value of having a player like Randolph on the roster.
There may be more productive power forwards out there, but for a variety of reasons, Memphis’ best bet is to keep Randolph in blue for as long as they can.