In the name of journalistic objectivity, I probably shouldn’t even be writing about Zach Randolph. I’ve made it pretty clear in this space that Z-Bo might be my favorite player in the NBA, to the point where I’ll engineer trade scenarios to get him on my favorite team, and lead campaigns to get him into the All-Star Game. (Which finally worked in 2010.)
So when I read reports that Zach has gone into Memphis Grizzlies training camp with a specific, big-time monetary goal in mind, my instinct was to defend him. And even after gauging the numbers, my instinct is pointing me in the right direction.
Z-Bo wants a contract extension. He’s entering the final year of a deal that will pay him $17.3 million this season, and after making the All-Star Game and leading the Grizzlies to a resurgent 40-win campaign in his first run with the team, Z-Bo wants to tack another three years and $65 million onto his earnings. That’s the same structured deal Pau Gasol signed with the L.A. Lakers last year, and the same offer Carmelo Anthony is letting sit on the table from the Denver Nuggets.
If the Grizzlies want to continue their upward climb and hold onto the pipe dream of being contenders, they need to pay Zach.
What has every NBA fan learned while watching the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Heat win the last six league championships? You need to be strong in the paint to win. Z-Bo is Memphis’ anchor on the front line. Last season he put up 20.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per game — David Lee was the only other player in the League to match those numbers — and led the League in offensive rebounding. Numbers sometimes lie, but they can’t front on the fact that Randolph is one of the most effective low-post players in the NBA.
“We respect Zach a lot as a player,” Rudy Gay said at Grizzlies’ media day on Monday. “He’s a part of our future.”
It’s not like the Grizzlies won’t spend money to win. They just signed Gay to an $84 million contract over the summer to lock up their franchise cornerstone. But if Gay is going to lead Memphis deep into the playoffs anytime soon, he needs a frontcourt stud, just like Kobe Bryant needs Pau Gasol, just like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James need Chris Bosh.
“Zach is the man. Zach is carrying a lot of weight for this team,” starting PG Mike Conley told reporters. “He competes, and everybody feeds off that. You look at him and say, ‘Man, he’s working hard.’ You definitely want to follow him.”
Two things would make a Z-Bo critic scoff at the idea of paying him like a superstar: (1) He’s supposedly a troublemaker, and (2) He’s 29 years old.
To which I’d say, (1) Zach hasn’t gotten into any trouble since joining the Grizzlies, and beyond the DUI he caught with the Clippers, has been on good behavior even while living in temptation-filled cities like L.A. and New York. And (2) age isn’t as important for a player of Z-Bo’s abilities. He’s not a high-flying wing who relies on athleticism and speed. With his style, he can drop 20-and-10 lines well into his 30s, similar to Tim Duncan. Besides, Pau Gasol is 30 years old. D-Wade is 28. Both of them just signed big-money contracts to keep them with their current teams long-term.
Another point of contention is that the Grizzlies should save room to re-sign Marc Gasol, their starting center who averaged 14.6 points and 9.3 boards last year. Gasol is younger (25), taller (7-foot-1), and doesn’t have a red-flag record like Zach. But the simple fact is that he’s not as good of a player as Z-Bo, and not as valuable to the Grizzlies as his frontcourt mate.
Basketball is a results business. No matter your perception of Zach Randolph as a person or as a player, the bottom line is that he produces results. He’s Mr. GSD (Get S*** Done). Now the Grizzlies need to GSD and take care of their most valuable player.
What do you think? Is Zach Randolph worth $65 million over three years?