It's somewhat strange, as a Memphis Grizzlies fan, to hear some of the misconceptions about Zach Randolph from those who don't necessarily follow the team as closely as many of us do here at Straight Outta Vancouver. Sure, he's had somewhat of a checkered past, but the truth is, the Zach Randolph we know here in Memphis isn't your mother's Zach Randolph -- that is, if your mother is/was a Knicks/Clippers/Trail Blazers fan.
The titles and tags just don't seem to fit him anymore. He's not a "black hole" on offense. He's not a "cancer" in the locker room. He's not a "me first" kind of player. I won't argue against the fact that he may have been any or all of those things throughout his career, but I will take anyone to task for saying that while he now is those things -- on and off the basketball court.
Sure... this. But, isn't "that" merely a case of "he said, drug dealer said"? Let's be clear, he doesn't get a pass, if the allegations are true -- and, more importantly he doesn't get one because he shouldn't be putting himself in such situations to begin with, but who am I to tell another man... -- OK, it may seem like I'm glossing over this incident, but the truth is, Randolph's complete body of work while in Memphis -- and I'm talking both on and off the court -- has far exceeded, at the very least, my expectations. He just doesn't deserve to carry the labels of his younger years.
From a number's perspective, Randolph has had his best years while with the Grizzlies. His offensive game has become much more efficient and effective. He's logging career bests in PER, posting three straight seasons of 21-plus, after having only reached 20 once in his career. He posted a career-best in Win Shares last season (10.5), which was in part because his defense has improved greatly (3.7 Defensive Win Shares last season). He has become one of the best rebounders in the NBA, to which he actually led the league in Offensive Rebound Rate at 14.2%. Oh, yeah, and all this while he dipped below the 25% Usage Rate mark, which is far below his career rate -- hence, the "black hole" comments. Numbers, numbers, numbers... I could go on.
There's no doubt that this franchise is better because of what Randolph does on the court. He, as the main part of the sum, was responsible for the team's great playoff run last season which left us one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals. As a player, he's a part -- the biggest -- but as a leader, he's the whole.
We still hear people wonder, especially after the Gilbert Arenas signing, whether or not this team can withstand a locker room with Tony Allen, Gilbert Arenas and Zach Randolph. Well, yeah, of course they can. Randolph isn't, and never was, an issue. He's the team leader. Here's a perfect example of said leadership, per Ronald Tillery:
A little more than 24 hours before the Grizzlies ended a three-game losing streak Sunday, there was talk amongst them about a need for sacrifice and leadership.
That much-needed package came in the form of Zach Randolph and his reception to returning to the bench. It ended up being a faint subplot to the Grizzlies thumping of the Los Angeles Lakers. But Randolph's willingness to take a step back in the rotation in an attempt to help the Griz move forward was commended by those around him.
"He showed big-time leadership for our team," guard O.J. Mayo said. "It's not all about numbers or minutes or any one person. It's about the team winning. That's what he's all about and that's what he showed."
This is just one example of Randolph donning the leadership cap and putting his team first. Something that Knicks, Clippers and Blazers fans probably can't quite fathom. And for good reason. I had my doubts when Randolph became a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. I watched far too many Z-Bo isos resulting in a 25-foot jumper with about 16 seconds left on the shot clock, especially during his time in New York. Seen it far too many times.
And, yes, we still see the "old Zach Randolph" appear from time-to-time, but it's more manageable in smaller doses.
Randolph has made some poor decisions in the past, and deservedly warranted criticism for being all those aforementioned cancerous traits. But much like in the past when he's done his best to put forth his worst, he's now doing everything in his power to put many of the misconceptions about him to rest. For on the same day that the Internet nearly exploded over new details emerging from the Randolph-drug dealer allegations, they remained silent over the fact that Randolph donated $20,000 to pay the utility bills for local Memphis-resident senior citizens. Not a peep on that story. Sure it doesn't run well and it's not as fun to talk about at the water cooler, but it's all part of the reshaping of his career. One which we Memphis fans have already grown quite fond of. And that's just one instance of Randolph being a part of the community, as opposed to offending it.
In all, you'd be hard-pressed to find a Grizzlies fan who doesn't have the utmost respect for Randolph and who has a single complaint about his time in Memphis. Hopefully, over time, the narrative will also change elsewhere, not just here at home.