The 32-year-old Randolph is a throwback force on the low block, a 260-pound supply of fancy footwork, soft shooting, pinpoint passing and insatiable passion. He's also a remarkably steady source of production, with the work done in his 13th NBA season (17.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting, 10.1 rebounds) nearly matching that of his previous 10 campaigns (19.1 points on 47.0 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds).
While the Grizzlies' emergence as a fringe title contender has as much to do with the strides made by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley as anything else, it's Z-Bo's presence as the franchise's rock that first made this explosive growth possible.
That's why it comes as little surprise that Memphis has reportedly looked to solidify its structure. Randolph has nothing more than a player option left on his contract, but the team sounds willing to do whatever it takes to keep its ruler of the restricted area draped in the various shades of Grizzlies' blue.
League sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that Randolph "has begun preliminary discussions on a long-term extension with Memphis." This follows in line with a March report from USA Today's Sam Amick which stated that Randolph would be the Grizzlies' "focus of their free agency."
Randolph's importance to the organization is hard to overstate.
He is the most reliable offensive contributor on a team that struggles to tread water at that end of the floor. The Grizzlies finished tied for 16th in offensive efficiency (103.3 points per 100 possessions), matching their highest such ranking in the last seven seasons. Randolph led the team in scoring and offensive rebounding (3.4 per game), and he ranked second in offensive win shares (2.9) and fourth in assists (2.5), via Basketball-Reference.com.
Alongside Gasol, a tandem Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix dubbed "the NBA's most enviable front court combination," Randolph helped the supersized Grizzlies find their niche in today's pace-and-space world.
Opponents threw lightning-quick, perimeter-savvy pairings at Memphis' maulers. Randolph and Gasol responded with a killer concoction of equal parts brains and brawn. Gasol dared defenders to challenge him in the high post, fired at will when they didn't come or dished down to Randolph when teams brought too much help.
It was a pick-your-poison proposition that carried no correct answers, mentally exhausting opponents while also exciting appreciative basketball purists:
The Gasol-Randolph high-low remains one of my favorite plays in the league. Beautiful when they can get to it.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) April 30, 2014
To the naked eye, this was basketball's version of poetry in motion. On the stat sheet, it was something even sweeter.
The type of chemistry Gasol and Randolph have developed would be incredibly difficult—if not outright impossible—to replicate with a different player added to the mix.
"Zach knows that when I get the ball in the post, my first read is him. And I know it's the same with him," Gasol told CBS Sports' Matt Moore in March 2013. "We understand the game the same way. And we're both willing passers."
There's an unselfishness shown by the two that's not often seen among the NBA's elite. Numbers only matter in two areas: the scoreboard and the standings.
The Grizzlies have countless reasons to keep Randolph around, but their resources to get a deal done are far more finite.
"They need Zach Randolph to stay," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin wrote, "ideally at a price that allows them to get some more shooting."
Both sides must find a comfortable financial middle ground.
For Randolph, this is almost assuredly his last chance at securing a jackpot payday. With 13 seasons' worth of wear-and-tear on his 32-year-old body, he finds himself on the losing end of the numbers game. Father Time will only remove more of his physical tools from here, a collection that wasn't particularly deep to begin with.
His athletic shortcomings—his rare dunks draw nearly game-stopping reactions—may actually assist him at the negotiating table.
"His game figures to age well," Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes noted. "... In fact, there's a chance Randolph will continue to improve. Just wait until his old-man strength kicks in."
There will be no penalty for Randolph losing explosiveness he never really had. Still, the Grizzlies can hear the ticks of the big man's biological clock.
Both sides should be after the same thing: security.
For Memphis, that means holding on to Randolph without severely restricting its leverage moving forward. The Grizzlies have more than $52 million already committed to the 2014-15 payroll, via ShamSports.com, pushing them pretty close to the projected $63.2 million cap.
Memphis needs to find more perimeter scoring (it finished tied for 19th with a 35.3 three-point percentage), plus retain the shooting it already has (Mike Miller and his 45.9 three-point percentage are headed toward unrestricted free agency). The Grizzlies also need to carefully watch their future funds, as Gasol is slated to become a free agent in 2015 and Conley is en route to doing the same the following summer.
That said, this team has no viable in-house option to replace Randolph.
Ed Davis was supposed to be that player, but the 24-year-old struggled to get himself off the bench. He was a part-time player during the regular season (5.7 points, 4.1 rebounds in 15.2 minutes a night) and an even smaller piece of the puzzle during the playoffs (3.6 minutes per game).
He's set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Grizzlies have no obvious incentive to bring him back should he find a lucrative deal elsewhere.
As for Randolph, the market doesn't figure to be great for an aging player at a dying position. The fact that he needs a controlled-pace, post-centered system in which to thrive greatly reduces his number of potential landing spots. Even if one does exist, it won't come packaged with a player as perfectly suited to maximize his talent as Gasol.
He knows the Grizzlies need a player with his skills, but that could be a two-way street. His annual salary is likely to come down, but he could find motivation to tie his long-term future to this city.
"Randolph has made a home and revived his career in Memphis," Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster wrote, "and he might be willing to sacrifice money next year for financial security going forward."
Randolph should still find an eight-figure annual salary, but it needs to be on the low end of that scale.
If the Grizzlies don't think he has another four years left in him (at around $40 million), they might increase his yearly compensation to shorten the life of that deal (three years, $36 million perhaps). Al Jefferson, who turned 29 in January, got a three-year, $40.5 million contract from the Charlotte Bobcats last summer. Memphis should stop its ceiling just shy of that point.
Should that salary end up a little higher than the Grizzlies wanted, front-loading the deal may ease some of that sting. Randolph would collect the same coin, and the Grizzlies would leave themselves wiggle room moving forward for upcoming talks with Gasol and Conley.
Randolph is a critical piece of both the Grizzlies' present and future—but only at the right price. That blue-collar identity loses some of its appeal if it carries a white-collar cost.
There seems to be heavy interest from both sides to get a deal done, as there should be. It's hard to find a better fit between a player, a franchise and a city as the one Randolph has developed in Memphis.
It's important that each party remembers how much the other one means to it as these talks progress. This partnership needs to continue. If the Grizzlies lose their grit, they might find their grind isn't enough on its own.