….But It’s Zach Randolph?
September 6th, 2008

ESPN: Knicks suggest dealing Randolph to Memphis

The Knicks have a trade proposal on the table with the Memphis Grizzlies that would see Darko Milicic and Marko Jaric dealt to New York in exchange for Zach Randolph.

OK, I get it. I do. I really do.

“Here, take Zach Randolph! Take this extremely talented player who just so happens to play at your weakest position! Nooooooo, we don’t want anything back! You just take him!”

I get that. When your job is to improve your team, and you are offered a highly talented basketball player for essentially free, it’s a tough one to turn down. And Zach Randolph really is highly talented.

But he’s also Zach Randolph. And therein lies the problem.

For all of Zach’s talents, his play has never been efficient, consistently sensible, or highly profitable. Just by playing him, you lose an untold amount on defence, something which Randolph simply does not do. And for all his versatility and skill as an offensive player, Zach has never had the greatest sense or awareness to fit into an offence efficiently – Randolph is a career 46.5% shooter who nowadays is starting his offence from increasingly near the three-point line, and with an intense aversion to passing. Bear in mind, this is a man once berated for selfishness by former teammate, Nick Van Exel.

The problem is exacerbated when looking at Memphis’s other big men. Out of Hamed Haddadi, Hakim Warrick, Darrell Arthur, Marc Gasol and Antoine Walker, who represents a good pairing for Zach? Who is the weakside shot-blocker to counteract Zach’s absence in that area? There’s a bit there, mainly coming from Gasol, but there’s not much. Additionally, if Marc Gasol is to start at centre – and it looks like he has to – then how do you pair him and Randolph on offence? Pairing Randolph with a man who plays within three feet of the rim at all times (Eddy Curry) went painfully badly last season, so how much different will it be with Gasol? How does Zach fit?

Take a wider look at the roster, and the same applies. The Memphis roster is a symposium of good young talent and veterans that they’re stuck with. In Rudy Gay and Orange Juice Mayonnaise, the Grizzlies have two talented young scorers, and a roster rounded out with complimentary athleticism, defensive versatility and scoring talent. However, outside shooting remains a concern, and there remains a big hole at power forward. There’s also a big rebounding hole on a team that was outrebounded by 2.9 boards a game last year, good for only 25th in the league.

Zach Randolph is a power forward all right, and he’s constantly armed with a good rebounding rate. But if anyone expects him to come in and be primarily a rebounder, in the role that David Lee refused to fill, then they’re either eternally optimistic, or privy to some blackmail that the rest of us aren’t. No one has been able to convince Zach Randolph that his future lies in the post for a while now, and a year under the stewardship of Isiah Thomas is not good news for any player who struggles to understand their limitations.

The current reported trade talk sees Memphis giving New York nothing more than Marko Jaric and Darko Milicic. That is a redeeming factor, at least. Milicic is a player who has failed to pan out for three teams, and Marko is someone Memphis didn’t want in the first place. The two players combine to earn $35,860,000 over the next three years, and they represent the two worst contracts that the Grizzlies have. (Readers note: Antoine Walker’s contract is longer and bigger, but it’s also fully unguaranteed beyond this year. And that’s why Memphis wanted it in the first place. Same with Greg Buckner, sort of.) The next three years of Zach Randolph will pay him $48 million, and the cap hold for the first two years will be only a minor increase over what Darko and Marko currently take up. The only significant cap hit comes in the 2010/11 season, where Randolph will earn $17,333,333 to Jaric’s $7,625,000, with Milicic already expired. But, as the Grizzlies will have only five players under contract at that time, that isn’t relevant of right now. The cost of obtaining Randolph is as low as it can be: two mostly insignificant bench players, who also have the franchise’s two largest contracts.

But is that minimal price still too much for Zach Randolph?

It’s a high risk move, clearly. But it’s only a high reward move if the Zach Randolph of 2006/07 turns up, the one who put up a flawed but tempting 24 points and 10 rebounds a game. The one who wasn’t as bad as usual on defence. The one who stayed largely in the post. The one who didn’t complain too much. The one who was in the best shape of his life. The one who produced. To make this trade worthwhile, Memphis needs that Randolph back. But even after such a career-best season, Portland were willing to trade him for nothing. Portland would rather pay Steve Francis $30 million to not turn up, rather than have even the good version of Randolph back. Warning sirens aplenty. If they get this Zach Randolph back, then they will be trading for the highest paid non-All Star of all time, and making a $48 million investment in a player with a painful contract and a temperamental history.

Risky. Too risky.

Will we ever see the better Randolph again? I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know about this trade. I get it, but…’s Zach Randolph.

Posted by at 11:26 PM