Following their Game 7 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies' attention shifts to standout forward Zach Randolph and his upcoming contract negotiations, writes Brandon Speck.
Memphis big man Zach Randolph (center) averaged 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in six playoff games this season.
Justin Ford / USA TODAY Sports
By Brandon Speck
MEMPHIS -- Zach Randolph didn't shove any of his feelings. Hours after the Memphis Grizzlies lost Game 7 of their Western Conference playoff series at Oklahoma City, Randolph talked for the first time about his suspension for the controversial shove of Steven Adams.
"Sitting in the room for a push when guys do a lot of other stuff, it was very disappointing," Randolph said. "I was shocked. After the game, I didn't think about it or woke up in the morning thinking I might be suspended. It was totally surprising."
But that is now old news. New news is whether or not Randolph will get a shot at redemption -- in a Grizzlies uniform. Randolph can either pick up his contract's player option and stay in Memphis or opt out. He wants to be back and has said so as trade rumors swirled each of the last two seasons.
"Yeah, oh yeah definitely," Randolph said of wanting to return.
Simple enough. But if he picks up the option, it won't be for the current $16.5 million. Memphis has cap room to think about. The Grizzlies want him back. Even coach Dave Joerger said he has taken on a new role in Randolph's upcoming negotiations.
"Chief recruiter?" Joerger asked a pool of reporters Sunday.
Randolph averaged a double-double, 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, both above his 13-year career averages. The 32-year-old admits he's not a spring chicken anymore, well, almost admitted it.
"I understand it's a business. I'm not 21," he said. "I'm not on a ... but I'm still in my prime, the way that I play.
Could that missing word be upswing? Maybe, but his numbers aren't dipping. Randolph says taking a Tim Duncan-like pay cut is possible. However, possible and probable are two different things and and if the two parties don't share the same views on the bottom line, then the Grizzlies' Game 6 loss at FedExForum becomes nostalgic.
Randolph will let it play out. His agent will handle the mathematics. He's made it very clear this is where his kids go to school, where he's invested, where he'll live no matter where he plays.
"I made it clear I want to retire here," Randolph said. "It's my home. This is were I want to be."
Numbers floated after the suspension was announced that the Grizzlies actually fared better in the series when Randolph was on the bench -- both offensive and defensive efficiency ratings were higher. But a larger sample showed different results Saturday when center Marc Gasol hit 6-of-8 to start the game, then finished 10-of-21.
It takes two for Memphis to get what it gets. It takes Randolph being on the floor.
"He knows how I feel about him. He knows how many battles we've been through. But at the end of the day, it's his life. He has to do what he has to do," Gasol said. "I haven't talked to him about it. I just assume he's going to be here."
Memphis is a two-headed down-low threat and right now, those are the two who make the bear growl. Gasol said he'll leave the option open as to whether he'll talk with Randolph about his decision.
"If it gets ugly, yes," Gasol said, before laughing. "I hope it doesn't get to that point, but at the end of the day his window gets smaller and smaller and you've got to do what you've got to do, so I'm sure he's going to put everything on the table and evaluate."
Tony Allen was blunt after the loss that he believed Memphis would have won the game with Randolph on the floor. So will Allen take on a recruiting role?
"Yeah, for sure. He's part of the reason why I came here," Allen said. "I don't want him to go nowhere, but I'm pretty sure he left his mark. I'm pretty sure things will get done. But, great brother to have in the locker room. He's our leader and I wouldn't want him to go anywhere."
That seems to be the common thought, one echoed by point guard Mike Conley, who almost dismissed the thought that Randolph would leave the city. Gasol got emotional when talking about the Grizzlies' fans, how the team disappointed them with a lost lead in Game 6, then saw them at the airport when the team got back home Sunday at 1 a.m.
He'll get emotional if Randolph doesn't return. The two have been through a lot, just this season, but Randolph said watching Saturday from afar was probably the toughest thing he's had to do in his career. He also said this five-year stretch with the Grizzlies has been the best of his career, one that has featured three other teams. Randolph has played a large role in Grizzly relevance and this team has played a major part in stabilizing his once-rocky career. It's a fit.
"Now people just don't look at the Memphis Grizzlies like a fluke," Randolph said. "They've got respect for them."