NBA@2: Zach Randolph Key To Grizzlies’ Contention?
Memphis Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph was in midseason form as he took the court at the John Lucas Lockout Charity Game in Houston last December. He looked great, moved exceptionally well, and looked poised to lead his team deep into postseason play. Unfortunately, he made it just two full games into the lockout-shortened 2011-12 NBA season before suffering a partial MCL tear against the Chicago Bulls on January 1st. To their credit, the Grizzlies stayed very much in the playoff chase without him, thanks in large part to the play of Marreese Speights, but it was clear that they weren’t prepared to contend with Randolph on the sidelines.
When he returned the Grizzlies struggled to work him back into the system, losing five of their first six games while Randolph worked to get back into game shape. A move to the second unit helped, both because it took some of the pressure from Randolph and because it added firepower to the bench. As much as anything, Randolph just needed additional time to work himself back into the flow of the game.
“It’s been difficult, especially being out for half of the season,” Randolph tells HOOPSWORLD. “When I came back the guys already had their chemistry going and been playing together and getting along. It’s difficult, but I just try to come in and do the best I can do and integrate myself back in with these guys and the way they play and just try to help this team get wins.”
To his credit, Randolph took the move to the bench in stride, putting the success of the team ahead of everything else.
“I mean, it’s a role and I have to accept it. I don’t know how long it’s going to last – it’s up to the coach – but I’m a team guy and it’s all about winning. So if he think that’s the best thing for me to come off the bench and help these guys win, then I’m with Coach.”
“I think right now until he gets his conditioning back and his flow back, I think it’s what’s been best for the team,” says Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. “But there’s no doubt that he’s a starter and he belongs in the starting lineup for us. It’s just a matter of time, I think, once he gets his rhythm and everything back. This short season hasn’t been easy so I think that will just be a waiting game.”
Part of the issue for head coach Lionel Hollins is that the identity of the team changed somewhat while Randolph was out, so not only is Zach trying to get back into top shape, he’s also learning the intricacies of the team’s new direction.
“It’s difficult simply because, it wouldn’t matter how the schedule was but the fact that he missed 43 games and in those 43 games we became a different team,” Hollins explains. “We created a new identity. It was more perimeter, dribble hand-offs, playing out of the pistol action, playing out of the pick-and-rolls and when he came back he had a big game against Toronto and then the next game he didn’t play very well. The more he played, the worse he was, because he’s just not in great shape and he’s not basketball-ready. I made the decision to send him back to the bench and hopefully let the rest of the guys go back to playing the way that they were capable of playing without him and it’s worked out. We’ve taken off and I think we won five out of six because of it. It’s important that that group stays strong because they are the group that carried us all year as we work Zach in from the bottom. We can’t work him in from the top because we can’t take that time. It’s not an 82-game season and we have to keep winning, because as you see the West is tight and every night you go out and play you win some ground and then you lose some ground. It’s a tough part for me because I want Zach to get back and get ready, but I also have to keep the other group out there with a chance to win and he’s helped us a few times.”
Now the Grizzlies seem to have caught their second wind. With Randolph settling into his role off the bench and getting stronger every day, the team has won six of their seven games in April and are closing in on home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They’re just a half-game behind the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers and two games behind the third-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Over the last four games Randolph averaged 14.0 points and 11.5 rebounds in wins over the Miami HEAT, Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns.
The Grizzlies look more like contenders with each passing game, especially as Randolph gets stronger. Still, the playoffs are a couple of weeks away and a lot can happen between now and then. The Grizzlies are working to keep their focus on the present.
“We’ve just got to keep playing,” says Randolph. “Wherever we land in the playoffs, we’ve just got to keep playing. The season’s not over with and it’s real close. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and just continue to play and get to our type of gameplan and the way we’ve been playing.”
Last season the Grizzlies were one of the most interesting postseason stories. With Randolph getting better by the day they might just prove to be an even more interesting story when the playoffs roll around once again.
Raymond Felton Finding His Groove
Portland Trail Blazers guard Raymond Felton talks with HOOPSWORLD about finding his groove under a new head coach, losing good friend Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline and more in this exclusive interview.
If you’re into reality TV and the professional sports that emulate same, get ready for what should be a fun contest between Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
The stakes? All-Star point guard Deron Williams.
The closer we get to the end of the 2011-12 season, which can’t come soon enough for either NBA owner, the hotter the rhetoric seems to get between the NBA’s most dynamic front office personalities. Cuban cites his 2009 appearance on Monday Night Raw when he talks about the upcoming challenge of luring Williams away from Prokhorov.
“He obviously didn’t see me be the first in WWE history to put Sheamus on the mat,” Cuban e-mailed ESPN Dallas. “He knows not what he gets himself into.”
“Let the best man win,” Prokhorov said. “If (Cuban) wins, I will crush him in a kickboxing throwdown.”
Lost in all of this is the fact that Williams will make his own decision, independent of the result of any WWE-style maneuver on Cuban’s part or kickboxing exhibition by Prokhorov.
All joking and theatrics aside, as things stand today it’s difficult to see why Williams would choose Dallas, despite sources close to the situation assuring HOOPSWORLD that Deron to Dallas is little more than a formality. As our own Jason Fleming recently detailed, the Mavericks can’t easily afford to just sign Williams outright, and the pieces they have to offer in a trade – Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion – aren’t likely to get New Jersey excited.
Obviously, a lot can and will happen between now and free agency, but here’s how the 2012-13 New Jersey Nets look on paper. They have one of the best young centers in the NBA entering restricted free agency in Brook Lopez. They have a former All-Star on the wing in Gerald Wallace. They have one of the best three-point shooters in the league in Anthony Morrow, and they have an exciting rookie coming into his own in MarShon Brooks. Jordan Farmar likely exercises his option to return, so there’s a decent backup point guard in the mix, and Johan Petro and Jordan Williams are under contract. Beyond that, the Nets have a significant amount of cap space to burn and an owner who isn’t afraid to burn it.
What about Dallas? Despite seemingly sacrificing this season in favor of a big splash in 2012 free agency, the Mavs will be at or near the salary cap without making any moves. The roster, as it stands today, includes Haywood, Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones. Lamar Odom’s $8.4 is non-guaranteed and clearly he won’t be back, and Vince Carter and Brandan Wright can be waived inexpensively, as well. Still, even if they unloaded all of their non-guaranteed contracts the Mavs’ roster pales in comparison to what New Jersey has in place.
Are Nowitzki and Williams a formidable enough duo to inspire free agents to head to Dallas to be a part of their championship parade?
Mark Cuban is an excellent salesman, but he may not be that good.
It will be interesting to see what happens. While Deron Williams is from Dallas and would love to play in front of his home town fans, there are plenty of NBA players from Dallas who have never worn and will never wear a Mavericks jersey. The lure of playing in Dallas will be a factor in Williams’ decision, but it is unlikely to be the determining factor.
It will be up to Cuban to convince Williams that he has a better shot at a championship in Dallas than he would have in New Jersey, and that will take a maneuver more impressive than any break-away chair or staged WWE throw down.
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