LeBron James garnered many sports headlines yesterday when, not surprisingly, he opted out of his current contract to play another two years with the Miami Heat, making him the most coveted free agent on the market. A day later, it appears that another valuable player may be hitting the market — the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph. If Randolph elects to opt out of his contract, he will rise up to the top just behind James and Carmelo Anthony, making 2014 one of the most notable free agency periods in years.
Despite a heart breaking loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a Game Seven where Randolph was suspended after an unjustified shove to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Steven Adams, the power forward made one thing clear to reporters. He wanted to opt in for the final year of his contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Additionally, Randolph told reporters that he wanted to retire in Memphis, and as such, a contract negotiation began to extend the forward.
This is what makes today’s news a shock. Reportedly talks have broken down between Zach Randolph and Grizzlies brass through the forward’s agent Raymond Brothers. The issue at hand appears to be that the power forward wants a four-year deal, but general manager Chris Wallace and Grizzlies ownership are unwilling to go beyond a three-year deal. There are two ways of looking at this breakdown. On one hand, it is not surprising that that talks have reached a stalemate; after all, Memphis has already had a questionable shakeup in the front office after letting go of CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash. This comes on the heels where Memphis allowed its coach, Dave Joerger, to interview for the Minnesota Timberwolves. In other words, the Grizzlies franchise seems to be a discombobulated mess at the moment. On the other hand, Randolph is 32. He has had injury problems, and they may be weary of signing him on a contract through 36 years of age.
While giving Randolph an extension that would see him stay on the squad through 36 is risky, he is still a highly productive player who is in his prime. Last season he averaged 17.4 ppg and 10.1 rpg, making him one of the better double-double machines in the league. Not to mention that the power forward has formed a formidable frontline with center Marc Gasol over the years. He also is quite popular in the community of Memphis, where this past December, he won the Kia Community Assist Award due to his charitable contributions to the city. If Memphis does indeed lose the forward, there may be quite a bit of backlash towards the Memphis brass.
More significant is the fact that by letting Zach Randolph walk, Memphis may be shooting themselves in the foot. Considering his contribution to the team and his leadership skills have made them a formidable opponent in the playoffs year after year, it is unlikely that they would be able to find a suitable replacement. Instead, by letting Randolph walk, they may be, in theory, turning another franchise into a real powerhouse.
Randolph will be looked at as a rare commodity in the league. He is a power forward who can score consistently in the paint and as a jump shooter, while also crashing the glass better than most in the league. Not to mention that he is a selfless team player that, with the right personnel, could become a major force in the NBA. If he does become a free agent, he may become a cheaper and more efficient version of Carmelo Anthony, despite a slight difference in position. It also helps his case that he will inevitably be the best power forward on the market, considering that Dirk Nowitzki will be going back to Dallas.
With James and Anthony, the NBA free agency has heated over the last week. Now with Zach Randolph possibly entering the free agency market, this 2014 offseason could be one of the most stacked free agency periods in recent memory.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey