It should never have worked.
Zach Randolph came to Memphis in the summer of 2009 through a trade involving Quentin Richardson and Darko Milicic, of all people. He was an obviously talented player who had put up numbers on some dumpster fire teams (The Jail Blazers, The Isaiah Thomas Knicks, The Clippers) during a troubled first decade in the league. The Grizzlies went 40-42 that year in a brutal Western Conference (The Thunder won 50 games as the eight seed). Z-Bo earned his first career All-Star nod while averaging 20.8 points and 11.7 rebounds a game. O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay were the two most celebrated perimeter players for the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were starting to come into their own on the court. Even Allen Iverson was there for a few games. No one expected this to be the start of one of the most beloved runs in NBA history.
But, in one of the most perfect city-player pairings in American professional sports history, Z-Bo helped kick start what became known as the Grit n Grind era in Memphis. And now that he’s gone to Sacramento after signing with the Kings on Tuesday, this officially marks the end of an era that had been prematurely claimed dead many times over. And one that never should have worked in the first place.
The Grizzlies signed Tony Allen in the summer of 2010. Little did they know he would become the fourth member of the team’s Core Four (Randolph, Gasol, Conley, Allen), the so-called Grindfather of the Grindhouse, a six-time All-Defensive team member, and a national NBA fan favorite.
Memphis became the fourth eight-seed in league history to advance to the second round of the playoffs, winning their first playoff game and series in franchise history as they dispatched the vaunted San Antonio Spurs. Gay and Mayo were still around to contribute, but the series would not have been won without the Core Four. And what an unlikely core group they were. A Clippers cast-off, Pau’s little brother, Greg Oden’s friend, and Trick or Treat Tony Allen.
Over the next seven years, the Grizzlies would prove to be one of the most consistently competitive teams in the NBA, despite playing a two-bigs, back-to-the-basket, defense-first style that would have been more prevalent in the 90’s. They gave Lob City and the Durant-Westbrook Thunder fits seemingly every year in the playoffs. They made the Western Conference Finals in 2013. They even had the NBA’s current juggernaut Warriors on the ropes during Golden State’s first title run. The only other team to do that to this iteration of the Warriors were the 2016 Cavs, and we all know how historical of a performance that took.
Losing Randolph is going to work out okay basketball-wise for both himself and the Grizzlies. Memphis has a ready-made and capable Z-Bo intern waiting in the wings in JaMychal Green. And Randolph will be able to contribute in Sacramento. The man always has and always will know how to get buckets and vacuum up boards. But, perhaps most importantly, he will be able to provide a veteran presence for the bright young roster the Kings have assembled. Imagine saying that 10 years ago. It’s the less tangible stuff that will be affected.
Z-Bo made two All-Star games and earned a Third-Team All-NBA spot in another season during his time with Memphis, the most successful stretch in franchise history. He seemingly turned in thousands of 20-10 games and saved the offense countless times when it was stalled out. I’ll never forget him raining mid-range non-jumpers on the Spurs in 2011. He formed a legacy with Marc and Mike and Tony, a Seven Seconds or Less Suns-esque run that bloggers and NBATV aficionados will be talking about for ages. He gave back so much to the city that loved him and that he cared about deeply.
Grit ‘n Grind forever. Z-Bo forever.