Zach Randolph and the Kings "Culture"

Zach Randolph's run-in with the law is a bad start to the culture change in Sacramento.

“It was time for a change and I decided this was the best direction for the organization. Winning begins with culture and culture matters.”

This was a direct quote from Kings GM Vlade Divac, delivered in a press release following the DeMarcus Cousins trade back in February. After seven seasons, 107 technical fouls, and an overall record of 196-362, the Kings had seen enough. After months of speculation and denial from the front office, Cousins was shipped out of town. The move was risky and heavily scrutinized, both by fans in Sacramento and talking heads around the league. Cousins is an All-Star in his prime, far and away the most talented player to wear a Kings uniform in the last 10 years, and the sole reason for Kings relevancy since 2010. And yet, the organization was willing to part ways with the hot-headed Cousins, primarily for “culture” reasons.

And so, the young Kings got younger. They exchanged Cousins for youth in Buddy Hield, and turned the 2017 draft picks they received into Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III. Veteran players departed, including Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, and Arron Afflalo. As of July 3rd, Sacramento had just two players over the age of 23: Garrett Temple (31) and Kosta Koufos (28). Including the newly signed Serbian prospect Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings currently have ten players on rookie contracts. Ten.

Boasting a roster with so much youth, the Kings needed bonafide veterans. Players who could direct the youngins, help them develop, and set the proper example. They needed players who could provide a stable “culture”. George Hill, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph formed the perfect veteran trio for Sacramento to bring in as free agents.

Last Wednesday night in Los Angeles, Zach Randolph was arrested for felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Police were called to a disturbance in a Watts neighborhood, where they were met by a large crowd of people throwing rocks and bottles at them. They arrested Randolph after he ran into a residence, despite a crowd trying to block the officers when they attempted to detain him, according to the LAPD. Randolph was released Thursday morning after posting his bail of $20,000. His court date is scheduled for August 31st.

Bad start for the “culture”.

Randolph spent the last eight seasons in Memphis where he was a model veteran. He was the face of a franchise who had a reputation for being hard-nosed and blue collar. His early career was marred by off the court issues but had seemingly left all of that behind as he matured and his career progressed. Kings head coach Dave Joerger spent three seasons as Randolph’s coach in Memphis, and undoubtedly encouraged Sacramento’s front office to sign him this summer. Unfortunately for the Kings, his latest run-in with the law hurts in a myriad of ways.

First, Randolph could miss an extended period of time. Whether or not the state of California presses criminal charges, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will almost certainly hand down a suspension, which would be the best case scenario for Randolph and the Kings. If he is convicted of a felony charge, there is a possibility of a complete ban from the league. The current collective bargaining agreement says that a player will be dismissed or disqualified from the NBA if he is convicted of, or pleads guilty or no contest to a crime involving the felony distribution of marijuana. A recent example of one of these cases is that of OJ Mayo, who was handed a two-year ban last summer for violating the league’s anti-drug program. He is eligible for reinstatement in 2018. Should Randolph receive the same treatment, it could signify the end of his career, as he would be 38 years old when the ban is lifted.

Secondly, what are the young guys supposed to think? Here is Zach Randolph, Z-Bo, a guy they grew up watching and potentially idolizing. They know him for his work ethic and his uncompromising, no-nonsense approach. All of a sudden, here he is their mentor and guide. He’s the guy they’ll have to answer to, the one who is going to hold them accountable for their actions, both on and off the court.
Now, what weight will his words hold, if any? How can he tell the rookies to not miss curfew or not be late to shoot around when he’s the 36-year-old grown man who got caught with two pounds of dope?

It doesn’t matter whether or not Zach Randolph is suspended for an extended period of time this season. Sure, there would be more pressure on the young bigs to pick up the slack, but the Sacramento Kings aren’t making the playoffs this year anyway. His absence on the court would not be detrimental to the team’s overall success.
What does matter, is culture.

“Winning begins with culture, and culture matters.”

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