Free Agent Stock Watch: Zach Randolph

Zach Randolph may have spent his final game as a member of the Grizzlies away from the team, serving a surprise suspension for Game 7 against the Thunder. Now Randolph must turn his attention to the the offseason and his player option for the 2014/15 season. His salary is set to drop from $18.2MM to $16.9MM if he picks up the option, a decrease that was ratified despite going against CBA rules per Mark Deeks of

Despite shooting under 40% in the playoffs, his inside presence helped Memphis impose its physical style on the Thunder and push the No. 2 seed to the brink of an upset. After missing half of the 2011/12 season due to injury, and scoring well below his career average last year, Randolph returned to form when the Grizzlies desperately needed him to, having lost star center Marc Gasol to injury for a significant chunk of this season. Randolph led Memphis in scoring for the playoffs at 18.2 PPG, and he averaged a double-double in the regular season.

The Raymond Brothers client hasn’t discussed his future with team management, but Randolph and the Grizzlies have mutual interest in him remaining in Memphis for the remainder of his career. Randolph is one of the only great post scorers in a league that has become more perimeter-oriented, even among frontcourt players. The Memphis front office is more driven by advanced stats than most around the NBA, so the continued presence of a player with Randolph’s skill set and age hasn’t always been a foregone conclusion. The Grizzlies denied rumors that they were looking to trade the power forward earlier this season, but Randolph expressed disappointment in the perceived lack of loyalty from the team.

While few teams have a frontcourt scorer as sturdy as Randolph, there isn’t an abundance of teams that seem to be in a position to target the big man. Many clubs with significant cap space are invested in young power forwards, and adding a piece like Randolph could stunt their development. Examples of this include the Bucks and John Henson, the Magic and Tobias Harris, and the Jazz and Derrick Favors. Toronto reportedly showed interest in Randolph this winter, and if the Raptors believe they can contend in the Eastern Conference by building around their core, adding a proven veteran of Randolph’s abilities would make sense. It would probably mean clearing Amir Johnson‘s salary via trade, and Johnson is a productive big on an affordable contract, but pairing Randolph with Jonas Valanciunas would be an intriguing move. The Pelicans were rumored to have light interest in Randolph as well. If New Orleans wasn’t confident in Ryan Anderson‘s return to form following a scary neck injury that cost him most of last season, Randolph could play alongside Anthony Davis.

Randolph could also become a fallback signing for teams that either strike out on their primary targets in free agency or want to offer a one-year deal around the value of Randolph’s option for next season to preserve max money for 2015. The Mavs have pursued a similar strategy in the past, and I could see the Lakers keeping their sights set on 2015 while adding a piece like Randolph in the meantime. It would be tough for Randolph, who turns 33 this summer, to pass on locking in long-term money while his market value is still relatively high, but the right team and the right salary might make him think about it. Randolph mentioned the Lakers earlier this season when he spoke of teams that had shown loyalty, a virtue he hoped the Grizzlies would espouse.

Randolph’s market value is believed to be in the three-year, $30-35MM range. A 13-year veteran who has logged as many bruising minutes as Randolph would seem a risky player to sign for multiple years at over $10MM in annual salary. Al Jefferson, three years Randolph’s junior, inked a three-year, $40.5MM contract last summer. Jefferson has superior offensive prowess at this point, but he’s also a greater liability on the defensive end. The fact that Z-Bo hasn’t built his game on athleticism — Randolph barely jumps when putting up his shot — mitigates some risk of a sudden decline in ability. Randolph relies heavily on strength and craftiness, elements that won’t evaporate overnight.

Randolph’s next contract will likely be his last extended deal as one of the league’s top earners, and it would make sense for him to pursue it sooner rather than later, especially since he’s facing a pay decrease on his option anyway. While Memphis wants to keep Randolph, it will still be interesting to see if the Grizzlies value him as much as they do other players on the market should he decline his option. Randolph came in ninth on our latest Free Agent Power Rankings, but he could find that player pool less crowded once free agency begins. Seven of the players ahead of him on that list can remain with their teams either through option clauses or restricted free agency. If the market dries up and Randolph stands as one of the few premier players available, teams with cap space might be able to pry him away from the city he has thrived in for the last five years.

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