Are Memphis Grizzlies Making Major Mistake by Not Trading Zach Randolph?

D.J. FosterContributor IFebruary 12, 2014

Dec 21, 2013; New York, NY, USA;  Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) shoots a free throw during the first quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

If the Memphis Grizzlies were to trade Zach Randolph, they'd be trading their identity for something different. 

For years now, the Grizzlies have defied conventional wisdom and surpassed expectations, just like Randolph has.

If you'll remember correctly, before he came to Memphis in what was basically a salary dump, Randolph was written off and dismissed as an overpaid, selfish basketball player. You didn't have to nitpick to find flaws in Randolph's game. He wasn't fast. He wasn't long. He couldn't jump. He didn't defend. He wouldn't pass.

Some of those flaws have been accounted for or fixed. Others still exist. Over the years, though, Memphis has accepted Randolph for his tremendous strengths and worked to accentuate them as much as possible. What the Grizzlies eventually became was a direct reflection of those strengths.

Memphis was all about work ethic instead of aesthetic, or as we know it now, "grit and grind" basketball. 

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 13: Memphis Grizzlies towels are put on fans seats before Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 13, 2013 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: Us
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

That style of play led the Grizzlies to plenty of unexpected success, just like Randolph enjoyed. The shocking first-round upset of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2011 playoffs put Memphis on everyone's radar, and last year's run to the Western Conference Finals managed to surprise us all over again.

The Grizzlies benefited from some key injuries along the way, of course, but this year they've been on the other side of the coin. Marc Gasol missed 23 games, and Mike Conley has been banged up as of late as well.

All the while, though, Randolph has kept chugging along. As the Grizzlies have adjusted to a new coach and multiple new players, Randolph has been one of the few dependable sources of production on a nightly basis. The Grizzlies are five games over .500 largely because of that.

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 29:  Marc Gasol #33 and Zach Randolph #55 of the Memphis Grizzlies get ready to take on the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on January 29, 2014 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Unfortunately in the stacked Western Conference, that's not quite good enough. If the playoffs started today, the Grizzlies wouldn't be in. That may be tough to swallow for a team that's largely capped out without many avenues to improve going forward, but that's the current reality.

The Grizzlies' place in the standings only further muddies an unclear situation. Randolph has a player option worth $16.5 million next season, a large chunk of money for a small-market team to pay. It's yet unknown whether Randolph will accept that option or instead look to secure a long-term deal.

Randolph sounds amenable to sticking around, though, as he told Marc Stein of earlier this year:

I'd like to be here. I'd like to retire here. You never know. If I've got to make some sacrifices to be here, I would. I still can play, I can still help a team out. I want to win a championship. I've made all the money in the world. I just want to win. 

Randolph has a difficult decision to make, but perhaps the Grizzlies do as well. Sam Amick of USA Today provided an update on where Memphis currently stands with Randolph:

Forward and possible free agent-to-be Zach Randolph has yet to say whether he plans to opt out this summer but has made it widely known that he wants to return. In turn, it appears the Grizzlies have no plans of trading him.

Unfortunately, the matter of trading Randolph isn't a black-and-white situation.

Randolph is 32 and declining ever so slightly, even though he's held up much better than most would have thought given all the wear and tear he endures on a nightly basis.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the Grizzlies may not be much more than a fringe playoff team as currently constructed. There's a real possibility that Memphis misses the playoffs this year, even though it's been much better with Gasol back in the lineup.

And while there probably isn't reason to think Randolph will bolt elsewhere in free agency this offseason considering how much success he's had in Memphis and all that he's said, it can't be ruled out entirely. There's always the risk of losing him for nothing, even if it's a minimal one.

On the flip side, Randolph is arguably the most popular player on the roster. He's a perfect mesh with Gasol, and he's a proven playoff performer. Memphis has a hard time scoring as is, and it's hard to imagine there are many available players via trade who would provide a significant upgrade over Randolph in that area.

Ed Davis is a capable backup to Randolph and maybe even an eventual successor, but his contract situation next year is up in the air as well. It wouldn't be a surprise for a team to swoop in with a big offer this offseason to scare Memphis away from matching on the restricted free agent, which would only further complicate the financial issues the Grizzlies are dealing with.

Will the Grizzlies regret not trading Randolph before the February 20 deadline? It's certainly possible, but there's something to be said for being loyal to one of the franchise's most beloved players who has repeatedly stated he wants to stay.

Basketball is a business, but it's bad business to alienate your fanbase and send the wrong message to other stars like Gasol who have contract negotiations coming soon. All the repercussions have to be considered when you're talking about trading someone who means as much to Memphis as Randolph does.

Make no mistake: This isn't the Rudy Gay situation. Gay was an unproductive player on a harmful long-term deal, whereas Randolph could continue to contribute at a good rate on a friendly contract after this year. There's much less to gain and much more to lose by dealing Randolph at this current juncture.

It's important to remember that trust is what the Grizzlies have been built on. The coaching staff trusted the players to work hard and give maximum effort, and they have. The players trusted the system to provide results, and it has.

Now it's management's turn to trust Randolph to help spur another playoff run and take his word that he wants to stay after this season. Of all the bets the Grizzlies could make at the trade deadline, that feels like the one most likely to pay off.