Trades That Never Happened: Zach Randolph to Orlando

Other than the lockout, which I refuse to acknowledge, there's isn't a lot going on. Instead, I'll be using my hindsight goggles to analyze rumored trades that fell through. First up: Zach Randolph to the Orlando Magic.

Background: When Rudy Gay went down in February with a separated shoulder, the Grizzlies' promising season suddenly started to turn sour. At the time, Rudy and Mike Conley were our only consistent wings; Tony, Sam, and OJ hadn't stepped up yet, and we wouldn't acquire Shane for another couple of weeks. Actual reports varied on how long Rudy would be out, but it was clear that it would be for at least a month. The Grizzlies were a half-game behind the Nuggets and the Jazz for the 8th seed, and threatened to fall further. While we weren't quite in a tailspin, many people (including myself) thought that we needed a shake-up if we wanted to reach the playoffs.

   As the trade deadline approached, Memphis was the subject of many rumors, mostly involving OJ and Thabeet, but there was one rumor, started by Grizzlies' archnemsis Sam Smith, and later confirmed by Chad Ford, that Zach Randolph might be traded to the Orlando Magic for Jason Richardson and Brandon Bass. Take it away, Chad:

The thinking in Memphis is that the deal would keep the Grizzlies competitive this season while also giving them a young power forward for the future. Randolph is an unrestricted free agent this summer and it isn't clear if the Grizzlies can afford to keep him, while Bass is due $4 million next season and has a $4 million player option in 2012-13.

   I won't lie--I really wanted this trade to happen. This wasn't due to a lack of faith in Zach; rather, I was concerned about our long-term salary, and Zach was due for a massive payday. While I don't question Zach's heart, he recently turned 30, and I (remain) concerned that his production will fall off. Post players take a lot of punishment, and as they enter their early 30's it begins to take a toll. Basketbawful wrote about this when the Spurs were elminated by our own Grizzlies.

Here's where we have to talk about hard realities. During his career, [Tim] Duncan has logged 37,733 minutes in 1,053 regular season games. On top of that, he has put in an additional 6,877 minutes in 174 playoff games. He has carried a franchise on his back for 13 long seasons. That takes a serious toll.

You know what else takes a toll? Being an old school big man in a little (or smaller) man's game. David Stern has successfully legislated into existence an NBA in which perimeter players like Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, et al. really can't be touched, relatively speaking. But big men are still allowed to push and shove. And let me be clear: The pounding that perimeter players absorb during their forays to the hoop is nothing -- I repeat nothing -- compared to the constant beating big men take on a nightly basis. Duncan rarely gets a play off from being grabbed, held and knocked around, and (in all fairness) dishing out the same punishment to his defender (or defenders)....

...I can't find the quote, but during his final years in Utah, [Karl] Malone said something to the effect of: "I dream about being able to throw the ball to somebody down low and say, 'Go ahead, big fella, you take it this time.'"

   It doesn't require any stretch of the imagination to see Zach heading down that same path, and, back in February, I foolishly believed that a platoon of Brandon Bass and Darrell Arthur could come close to replicating Zach's production. I also thought that trading Zach would allow Marc Gasol to take on a larger role in the offense and become a legitimate star, meaning at least I was right about one thing.

  Jason Richardson would have significantly improved the backcourt, though at least one player (probably OJ) would have to be traded to sort out the mess. Further, Richardson's 3-point shooting (.378 for his career) would have been a welcome addition one of the most 3-point deficient teams in the league. Yet, I wonder how J-Rich would have affected the rest of the backcourt. Before Rudy's injury, Tony, Sam, and OJ were often passive, knowing that Rudy would be around to bail them out. When Rudy got injured, they lost their safety net; however, they responded in the best way possible--by elevating their games. If Richardson arrives in Memphis, would we still see that same progression, or do they do back to deferring to him as they would to Rudy?

  When we analyze this trade in retrospect, there are two questions to consider: 1) what kind of success would the Grizzlies have had, and 2) what would this trade have done for our long-term plans? About the former, I can only speculate, but I'd imagine that the Grizzlies would still have made the playoffs. We had a fairly easy end to our schedule, Utah fell apart, and Houston held steady. As to the latter, I can say that this trade would have been beneficial to the Grizzlies. Brandon Bass is a young, fairly cheap player, and even if Richardson didn't work out, he was an expiring contract anyway.

    All that being said, I have two minds about this trade. The rational part of my mind tells me that in the long-term it would have been in the Grizzlies' best interest to follow through on this trade. However, this would be ignoring my emotions, which know that the Grizzlies wouldn't have toppled the Spurs and gone the distance with the Thunder without Zach. Many people, more eloquent than myself, have talked about how much this postseason meant to the team, the fans, and the cities of Memphis and Vancouver. Sure, our financial future may not be as rosy as we'd like. Yes, the logical part of me didn't entirely approve of Zach Randolph's 4 year $66 million dollar extension, but my attraction to basketball has always been that I felt it was less about cold, hard logic and more about heart. Zach is the heart of this team, and I'm glad we kept him.

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