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VOL. 129 | NO. 88 | Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Z-Bo’s Future Dominates Grizz Talk

By Don Wade

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If there was one thing that the Memphis Grizzlies’ seven-game playoff series with Oklahoma City didn’t lack, it was drama. There were four overtimes and several plot twists before the Thunder put the Grizzlies down in Game 7 as they played without Zach Randolph, who was suspended by the NBA for a hard push/punch in Game 6.

Zach Randolph has a player option worth $16.5 million for the 2014-2015 season. Whether he opts out for free agency or possibly signs a new deal will be the news to follow.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The on-court games now over for the next few months, the off-the-court games begin. Randolph, who turns 33 in July, led the Grizzlies in scoring (18.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.7) this season. Those are key numbers. So is this one: Randolph has a player option worth $16.5 million for the 2014-2015 season.

“I just let everything play out and let my agent take care of it,” Randolph said one day after the season ended as the Grizzlies met with the media for the last time. “Control what I can control. I made it clear I want to retire here. It’s my home.”

Randolph has purchased a house in Memphis and has nephews attending school here. He and the Grizzlies could handle his situation a couple of different ways. Randolph can elect to exercise the option, get paid $16.5 million for this year (which would figure to impact the player moves the team could make) and then become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

But if Randolph declines the option, he becomes an unrestricted free agent this July. On the one hand, it would allow the team and Randolph to negotiate a new deal for perhaps more years at less money per year; the ballpark for power forwards in Randolph’s age range would appear to be $30 million to $35 million for a three-year deal. But it also would carry the danger of another team coming in with an offer too good to refuse.

That’s essentially what happened when Tony Allen was a free agent. He didn’t return to Boston because Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace sold Allen on coming to Memphis.

“It’s the risk,” Allen said of free agency. “But Zach pretty much made it clear this is where he want to be. Look at him in the locker room, he’s always chatting with the guys. The city loves him. He does a lot for the community.”

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who just finished his first year at the helm, was clear on where he stands in the process, saying his role would be “chief recruiter.”

“He knows he’s loved,” Joerger said. “He knows he’s wanted here. We have a good relationship, a really, really good relationship. He was not difficult for me to coach at all. I really enjoyed coaching him.”

Randolph has plenty of support within the locker room as well. He and center Marc Gasol have been an effective post-presence tag team for five seasons.

“He knows how I feel about him,” Gasol said. “End of the day, he has to do what he has to do. I assume he’s going to be here.”

Asked if he would make his case with Randolph, Gasol smiled and said, “If it gets ugly, yes.”

Randolph, however, did say that Gasol’s ability to become a free agent after next season is something the two have talked about casually. Asked if management has to show him their continued commitment to winning, Randolph answered, “They already showed that. Our team, the way we’ve been building, shows they want to win. When you got guys like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley it shows you want to win. Just add other pieces around.”

Conley, for one, didn’t seem worried that he had thrown his last pass to Z-Bo, adding that he doesn’t believe any campaigning will be required to keep Randolph with the team – whether that’s exercising the option or signing a new long-term deal.

“I don’t think I even need to persuade him, to be honest with you,” Conley said. “He loves this city, loves the people, loves the team, loves his teammates. All heart of hearts, I think he’ll be back.”

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