By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:34PM
It was barely 18 months ago that Zach Randolph tied up Tim Duncan into more knots than a bag of pretzels, powering his way to the hoop with a bull rush on one possession and then sliding along the baseline as slickly as an eel covered in oil on the next.
He followed that stunning first round upset of the San Antonio Spurs with a sequel against Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City that had equal parts sledgehammer and sleight of hand.
His Memphis Grizzlies were a team on the rise and Randolph was responsible for much of the heavy lifting.
So here is Z-Bo, back from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee, having to prove himself all over again.
"My knee is 100 percent," Randolph said at the Grizzlies' media day. "I feel good. It's a new season. I'm turning the page."
It seems like the book on the 31-year-old Randolph always has the same plot, constantly asks the same questions about whether he's a high-energy, high-output asset or an often lazy liability.
That's a wildly divergent opinion about a player who consistently put up 20-point, 10-rebound per game numbers for eight straight seasons from 2003 to 2011. Which is probably the reason that Randolph spent the summer listening to so much rumor and innuendo. One day he'd hear that the Grizzlies were going to amnesty him and his max contract. The next day he'd hear that he might be traded to the Lakers for Pau Gasol.
After missing 38 games due to his injury and then having last season come to a disappointing and unfulfilling end with a first-round loss to the Clippers in which he couldn't display his old moves or his strength, Randolph initially rested his knee until August. Then he went to work.
Randolph enlisted the help of University of Memphis strength coach Frank Matrisciano and endured a training regimen like he'd never put himself through before, one designed to get him back to the form that got him picked for the NBA All-Star Game in 2011.
Matrisciano calls his regimen chameleon training and if anybody was ready for a change it was Randolph.
"It was the worst year of my career," he said. "Being hurt and not being able to move how you want to move and have that second jump. It was real frustrating. I wanted to make sure my knee healed before I did a lot of movement.
"Frank works every muscle in your body. It's just tearing down fat and building up muscle. I tell these young players, I'm 31. I've got two max contracts and I'm still working out hard with Frank, running stairs. That's how dedicated I am. I want to be the best. I'm not just satisfied."
The program had Randolph running in a sand pit, toting heavy balls up and down stairs, even climbing floor-to-ceiling pipes to develop upper body strength.
He is hardly a chiseled candidate ready to model for the cover of a body building magazine, but Randolph says he's stronger and looks more like his old self, ready to create havoc around the basket.
Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal said that a key sign of Randolph's re-emergence came prior to the start of camp when he spun around Marc Gasol during a pickup game and powered to the hoop for a bucket.
"Zach looks good," Gasol said.
The same game left point guard Mike Conley convinced that his post-up big man is back.
"Zach's always gauging himself by how many dunks he gets in a workout," Conley said. "So he's been dunking it and looking real good and mobile."
Coach Lionel Hollins is also a believer that those who said Randolph had permanently lost his explosiveness and was on a downhill slide to his career will be proved wrong this season.
"Zach is healthy," Hollins said. "He's moving well. He's worked hard. The strength is good in his leg and his conditioning is so much better."
But Randolph knows he's going to have to put that All-Star form back onto the court to stop the questions and convince the masses.
"I always feel like I have something to prove," he said. "I'm my biggest critic. So whatever it takes to win games, that's what I'll do.
"I always play with a chip on my shoulder. I've been proving people wrong my whole life. That's just what I do."
1. Now that scapegoat O.J. Mayo is off playing in Dallas, will somebody step up to fill his designated shooter's role?
2. Was Randolph showing signs of his knee injury or his age late last season? It's a $50-million question.
3. For all the emphasis Hollins puts on defense, the Grizzlies need a better offense to be a real threat in the West.
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LAST YEAR: 41-25, 2nd in Southwest
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
MIKE CONLEY, POINT GUARD
12.7 PPG | 2.5 RPG | 6.5 APG
He's held off all the other would-be point guard challengers in Memphis. Now Conley is firmly entrenched as the right man to run the Grizzlies' potent attack.
TONY ALLEN, SHOOTING GUARD
9.8 PPG | 2.3 RPG | 1.4 APG
The "Grind Father" indeed. Since Allen signed with Memphis two seasons ago, the Grizzlies have become a top 10 team in terms of defensive rating each season.
RUDY GAY, SMALL FORWARD
19.0 PPG | 6.4 RPG | 2.3 APG
A healthy, mature Gay remains the go-to guy in Memphis when a late bucket is needed and had little problem fitting in with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
ZACH RANDOLPH, POWER FORWARD
11.6 PPG | 8.0 RPG | 1.7 APG
Z-Bo is in desperate need a bounce-back performance after last season's knee injury broke up his season and, worse yet, started talk of his possible decline.
MARC GASOL, CENTER
14.6 PPG | 8.9 RPG | 1.86 BPG
He's a wider body than his brother in Lakerland, but Gasol has moved into the upper echelon of NBA centers. One of the better passing bigs in the league.
|Marreese Speights||6-10||255||C||Jump-shooting big man plays little defense.|
|Jerryd Bayless||6-3||200||PG||'Tweener guard who needs to develop consistency.|
|Wayne Ellington||6-4||200||SG||Needs to get 3-point shot back on track to contribute.|
ADDED: G Jerryd Bayless, G Tony Wroten
LOST: G O.J. Mayo, G Gilbert Arenas, F Quincy Pondexter
ZACH RANDOLPH, POWER FORWARD
Randolph was limited to 28 games during the regular season and didn't quite find his rhythm until the playoffs. If he can return to form and maintain his health, he will bring a valuable dimension to a team that finds a way to contend each year.
Paul Millsap faces up Blake Griffin on the post and slips by driving baseline and throws down the two-hand flush.
|Arena Link: Mike Conley|
Mike Conley drops 20 points on the Bobcats and sits down with NBA TV to talk about the Grizzlies' win.
|Hawks vs. Clippers: First half|
DeMarre Carroll scores 13 points with Paul Millsap adding 11 points back from injury as the Hawks lead the Clippers at halftime 58-57.
|Kick Back, Kapow|
Blake Griffin kicks out of the post to Chris Paul who throws it right back lobbing it up for the alley-oop slam.
Blake Griffin kicks out of the post to DeAndre Jordan who rises up and throws it down with force.