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Fran Blinebury

Forward Zach Randolph is happy to be a cornerstone player -- and a winner -- with the Grizzlies.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Randolph's once-rocky career finds stable footing in Memphis

Posted Apr 20 2011 11:04AM

SAN ANTONIO -- He used one hand to rub that lump that still rose up from one side of his head, the other to adjust the icepacks on both knees, then pulled out the Cheshire cat grin to drop the big hammer.

"Our goal," said Zach Randolph, "is to shock people."

As if the Grizzlies hadn't done enough of that already by getting a grip on the first playoff win in franchise history with their 101-98 upset of the top-seeded Spurs in Game 1.

But what's 10,000-volts-of-electricity shocking to so many is the man the Grizzlies have chosen to keep turning the lights on in the interior of the lineup. The last details are all that need to be worked out on a new four-year contract that could pay Randolph up to $71 million with incentives.

"He's our foundation player," said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins.

That's not to take anything away from high-scoring forward Rudy Gay, who is spending the playoffs with his surgically repaired shoulder in a sling, or from steadily improving point guard Mike Conley.

But when you think of the Grizzlies and what they have become, it's a workmanlike, bruising, blue-collar style that comes to mind, much like the town they represent and what Randolph embodies.

It is almost as if Z-Bo and Memphis were destined to come together; a city that takes more than its share of hard knocks and this player who can't ever seem to outrun raps against his character.

"A lot of people have a past and a lot of people eventually make choices to do the right thing and go in the right direction," Hollins said. "What I don't understand is why so many people aren't willing to give second chances."

Randolph, a talented big man who can score from so many seemingly impossible angles, was labeled as a bad teammate in his peripatetic travels from Portland to New York to the L.A. Clippers. Hollins got to know him from spending summers coaching Randolph in summer basketball in Las Vegas.

So when the Clippers won the 2009 Draft lottery and were going to take Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick, he was ready to move.

"I told management there was a player I thought we could get who could make us solid, make us legitimate," Hollins said. "Oh, I had to do a selling job, maybe my best ever."

Then he had to sell Randolph on the idea that just because he was a solid 20-point, 10-rebound performer throughout his NBA career, none of those stats meant anything unless he did them as part of a team.

"I asked him, 'What have you ever won doing it your way?' "Hollins said.

Now Randolph is no longer the proverbial black hole from which sunlight and the ball never escape. His 2.2 assists a game this season were a career high. His points and rebounds are up, too, just like the Grizzlies' win total. Who would have thought the kid who always seemed to find himself on the periphery of trouble either at home in his native Marion, Indiana or as part of Portland's so-called "Jail Blazers" could become a leader?

There were many different contributors behind Memphis' series-opening win against San Antonio. Center Marc Gasol hit nine of 10 shots and scored 24 points. Conley outplayed Tony Parker. Shane Battier hit the clutch game-winning 3-pointer.

But it is Z-Bo (25 points, 14 rebounds) whom they all feed off, getting lift from the constantly swirling winds of his energy in the paint and around the basket.

He could have played out his contract for another few weeks. He could have become a free agent at the end of the season. But after 10 seasons of wandering and just a few months shy of his 30th birthday, Randolph has a place that finally feels like home.

"I definitely want to be here," he said. "They love me in this community. I love them ... I didn't want to sign somewhere else."

He pays the electricity bills for some needy Memphis residents and plays Santa Claus at Christmas. He's engaging in conversation, has a smile that could warm a cold night, the same one he flashed as he connected with a grade school full of AIDS patients on an NBA Basketball Without Borders trip to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2004.

Randolph knows he'll never be able to run away from the darker sides of his image, so he has worked hard to change it.

"People that thought different didn't know me," Randolph said. "If you ask the New York Knicks organization, the Los Angeles Clippers organization, I didn't have a problem there. They loved me and everything's good. I had a problem in Portland. Sometimes change is good. Maybe my time was up."

Now maybe this is his time in a place and for a franchise that has craved respect and validation.

"I like these young guys," he said. "I like Rudy. I like Mike. I like playing with these young guys. They like to play hard. They want to learn. They want to win. They want to get better. Me and Marc complement each other so well."

Somebody asked him if all the Grizzlies are building around this core could get them into the championship conversation one day.

That's when the grin came out and the hammer came down. One day?

"Let's just see what happens in the next game," Randolph said.

More shocking things have happened.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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