Memphis Grizzlies' Window Still Open Just Enough After Zach Randolph Extension

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2014

The Memphis Grizzlies' title chances are on life support, but the window hasn't been shut just yet. That's thanks in large part to the revelation that star power forward Zach Randolph isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that, "Randolph has reached agreement with the the [sic] Memphis Grizzlies on a two-year, $20 million contract extension that begins in 2015-16, league sources told Yahoo Sports."

"It’s cool, man," Randolph said Friday, according to Memphis Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery (subscription required). "This is where I wanted to be."

Per's Marc Stein, "Randolph told as far back as November that he wants to play out the rest of his career in Memphis and hopes to establish a long-term relationship with the franchise similar to what divisional rivals Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have in San Antonio and Dallas, respectively."

Tillery described the big man as "the heart and soul of the Grizzlies’ success since he arrived in 2009," noting, "He’s twice been an All-Star for the Grizzlies under former coach Lionel Hollins."

Randolph had already opted in for the 2014-15 season, the final year remaining on his contract and one in which he'll be paid a heaping $16.5 million. 

The subsequent pay cut is probably a fair price for Randolph, but more importantly, it ensures the organization has a better opportunity to retain Marc Gasol in 2015 without threatening its ability to add additional free-agent talent.

But cap flexibility is almost an afterthought at this point.

These Grizzlies' immediate chances to make noise in a crowded Western Conference largely hinge upon Randolph, and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future. The 32-year-old averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds last season, proving he can remain a double-double force on a team that privileges inside-outside basketball.

Now whether Memphis is a legitimate contender is another question altogether, but losing Randolph would have put the club on the fast track to rebuilding. Now the Grizzlies at least have a shot at improbable glory.

And yes, it's improbable.

The West grows more competitive by the season, while the Grizzlies tweak their way to postseason mediocrity. Don't get me wrong—this team is built to pull upsets, much as it did in the opening round against the San Antonio Spurs in 2011.

But it's been a while since 2011, and the subsequent years have been filled with caveats and disappointments.

Memphis lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in a seven-game first round in 2012, ultimately looking outmatched by L.A.'s superior star power.

The Grizzlies had their revenge a season later, but here's where the asterisk comes into play. After beating the Clippers in the opening round, Memphis took advantage of an Oklahoma City Thunder team that was missing Russell Westbrook. Lionel Hollins' team was summarily dismissed from the postseason in four games by the Western Conference champion Spurs.

Then came 2014.

You could argue that taking OKC to a seventh game in the first round was itself a victory of sorts. Memphis wasn't supposed to be so competitive against a team boasting both Westbrook and MVP Kevin Durant. The fact that it was a close series at all proved that the Grizzlies were better than advertised.

But not quite good enough.

So while Randolph keeps Memphis' title window open, it's just barely cracked.

The Grizzlies sorely miss a dynamic scorer on the wing, and it's unclear if 2014 first-round draftee Jordan Adams will solve that problem immediately. And as good as Memphis' core trio of Randolph, Gasol and Mike Conley may be, not one of the team's stars is really capable of taking over games.

None of this comes as news to fans who follow the team closely. They'll correctly respond that this isn't a team that relies on hero-ball. It's an ensemble cast that wins with rigid defense and an assortment of above-average role players.

If the Spurs could pull off a championship without someone of LeBron James or Durant's ilk, why can't Memphis?

Put simply, the empirical evidence suggests the Grizzlies need more. It suggests that an offense that revolves around the post is increasingly antiquated in today's NBA and that Conley would have to become a veritable superstar for this club to have more than a nominal chance at greatness.

The Grizzlies are waging war like its the 1990s all over again, relying on big men with their backs to the basket and eschewing anything that resembles a viable—much less robust—perimeter attack.

Memphis ranked dead last in 2013-14 when it came to three-point attempts, averaging just 14 per contest. To put that in perspective, the league-leading (and more successful) Houston Rockets averaged 26.6 per game.

That's a wide margin.

It speaks to the roster's limitations more than it does any deep-seated philosophical mistake. When the Grizzlies did shoot threes, they weren't all that successful, ranking just 19th in three-point field-goal percentage at 35.3 percent. It probably wouldn't have been prudent for head coach David Joerger to insist on his team launching the long ball more frequently.

He simply doesn't have the tools at his disposal to play that kind of game. 

Accordingly, realists might insist that signing Randolph to an extension was a mistake and that it would be better to begin rebuilding sooner rather than later. They might argue that Memphis' championship window—such as it is—was never really all that open to begin with. And they might be right.

Short of blowing things up, however, the Grizzlies have little choice but to keep trying.

The good news is that this core has been together for some time now. It's collective institutional knowledge will continue to pay off, at least enough for the Grizzlies to remain a dangerous matchup in the postseason.

It's dangerous enough to pull an upset or two.

Maybe it's dangerous enough to do even more.


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