Memphis embraces Randolph as rumors swirl

Zach Randolph has embraced Memphis in his time there. The city has returned the favor.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Zach Randolph understands the NBA. When his name surfaced in Memphis Grizzlies trade rumors this week, the power forward took it in stride.

“It’s part of business. It’s not personal. It’s part of business,” Randolph said after Friday shootaround at FedEx Forum.

Randolph’s future in Memphis is uncertain. His rejuvenated production isn’t. His 16.9 points per game comes in just below his career 17.3 average and he has increased his rebounding average to 12 boards per game, nearly three more than his career mark. Randolph is well on his way to averaging a double-double for the seventh time in his career.

“It’s a rejuvenation to win, to try to be better in all aspects of the game,” Randolph said. "I ain’t got to get 20 points every game. We’ve got Marc (Gasol), Mike (Conley) and Rudy (Gay). I’m just playing, man.”

Gay is also the subject of trade rumors as the February deadline looms and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Randolph isn’t new to switching uniforms — he has been with four teams. Gay was drafted by the Rockets but was immediately traded to Memphis in 2006.

Last season was a vapor for Randolph. The lockout put the season off until Christmas but that was only a part of his problems. The 6-foot-9, 250-pounder suffered an MCL tear in his right knee in January, just days after the shortened season started. He returned two months later, but was never the same. He returned to play only 28 games, starting just eight of those.

He said when he returned, he was only at 50 percent. It showed. He averaged his lowest marks in points and rebounding since his third year with Portland, the team that drafted him 19th overall out of Michigan State in 2001.

Randolph is trying to get the Grizzlies to the postseason for the third straight season in a tough Western Conference. He doesn’t have to do it himself.

“I’m 100 percent and we’ve got good guys that can carry the load,” he said. “It ain’t gotta be me every night.”

Randolph stood in front of reporters after a loss to Philadelphia earlier this season and took a deep breath before talking to the pool of media awaiting his words. Reporters await for his words much like Grizzlies fans await his player introduction. Is the old Randolph back?

His high-point mark came in 2006-07 when he scored 23.6 points per game in his final season with the Blazers. His rebounding high came in 2008-09, the second season of his two-year split in New York. Randolph has started every game this season and again has Memphis fans excited about the possibility of a postseason.

“He’s healthy. Bottom line, he’s healthy, from the start,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “He’s playing well.”

Randolph’s postseason play two seasons ago was the catalyst for the Grizzlies’ lone playoff series win in franchise history. The Grizzlies knocked off top-seeded San Antonio and took Oklahoma City to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals. Memphis lost in the first round last season, in seven games to the Clippers.

Tony Allen went to his best PA voice to talk about Randolph.

“I think he’s back to when we made history, won those seven games for the Memphis Grizzlies,” Allen said in his best voice-over impersonation, “doing all that big boy stuff. He’s back to rare form.”

Memphis fans have embraced Randolph’s gritty game, taking it as a full representation of its blue-collar city. Randolph is two seasons shy of his longest NBA stint with any team – he was with Portland for six seasons. He says this is where he wants to be, whether he plays basketball here or not.

“I’m about to buy me a big ‘ole house," he said. "My daughters are going to graduate. I’m here. If they trade me tomorrow, I’m here.”

Reasons such as those leave no doubt that when trade talks emerge involving Memphis’ most popular player, Grizzlies fans get a bit antsy.

“They respect hard-working people. They’ve embraced me. I’ve embraced them,” Randolph said.

The Grizzlies are coming off a three-game West Coast win streak and have a chance to play catch-up with conference leading San Antonio tonight at home.

Memphis fans hope their chances to see Gay and Randolph on the same floor isn’t winding down.

“He’s a big community guy, an All-Star on the court,” Allen said of Randolph. “He’s been sacrificing, making more passes than ever, playing both ends this year. I would have to say Zach is 100 percent now and you can see it in his play.”