Zach Randolph's professional revival in Memphis is the stuff of legend. Exiled from Portland, an embarrassment in New York, forgotten in L.A., Z-Bo came to the Grizzlies and immediately became an All-Star-level player. (He, in fact, made the All-Star Game in his first season in Memphis.) Once considered among the most overpaid players in the NBA, he earned -- yes, earned -- a fat extension. He, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay got the team into the league's upper echelon; in 2010-11, they even beat the Spurs in the first round and took the unbelievable Thunder to seven difficult games. With Z-Bo and Gay healthy this season, Memphis could go even higher, even further.
Instead, Gay never actually recovered from his cursed 2011 shoulder injury, looked more like a cap liability every day and was traded to the starstruck Raptors. But Z-Bo has also struggled after his knee injury last season. Like Gay, the post-injury drop in efficiency is starting to look something like permanent. Randolph is 31. He's due $34.3 million over the next two seasons. That's superstar money. His post-injury production suggests he is an above-average, sub-star player.
Basically, he's not unlike Rudy Gay ... who Memphis traded in January.
With the Memphis front office becoming more reliant on advanced metrics due to the role of Jason Levien and hire of John Hollinger, Z-Bo could become the next man on the outside. And if this playoff series continues down the path it's on -- with the Clippers up 2-0 heading to Tennessee -- we could be looking at a real overhaul. I would say two things about Lionel Hollins with respect to this thought stream: he has not endeared himself to his new bosses with commentary on the Gay trade and the statistic bent in general, and he has not exactly won popular favor in this series.
Again, Z-Bo is 31, his production has declined since a knee injury a season and a half ago and he has the highest annual salary on the team. Marc Gasol is 28 with low mileage and looks fairly paid through 2015 as one of the league's elite centers. Mike Conley is 25 and looks fairly paid through 2016 as an above-average point guard. With Z-Bo on the payroll, it's going to be difficult to add much to improve this team or replace free agent to be Tony Allen, should he leave Memphis. The Grizzlies have $62 million on the books next season without including Allen or Austin Daye. That's over the cap, so the mid-level exception or a sign-and-trade would be the main free agency routes to roster improvement.
Dealing Z-Bo -- for talent, for cap space that can then be used on talent, for a pick who can hopefully develop quickly enough to keep Memphis relevant -- may become really attractive to a front office that has shown no hesitance in reforming the team how it sees fit. If the Grizzlies can't turn around this series, that result could become more of a foregone conclusion as we approach trade season.