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Zach Randolph
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Z-Bo’s Sacrifice Creates Space for Fizdale’s Pace

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – Subtlety, obviously, isn’t one of David Fizdale’s better characteristics.

That’s especially the case when addressing one of the biggest dilemmas facing the first-year Grizzlies’ coach as he implements his preferred playing style with veterans Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

“Let’s not dance around it and act like it’s not there,” Fizdale said after Wednesday’s practice of his recent, straight-forward conversation with Randolph. “Playing Marc and Zach (together) is not a formula for pace. So why even mess around with it? That’s why I went directly to him.”

For the second time in as many seasons, Randolph is adjusting to a Grizzlies’ coaching staff changing his role. So when Fizdale delivered the news to Randolph last week in training camp, the 16-year NBA veteran was prepared for anything.

Any inclination to sulk has long since faded.

Embracing the latest call to sacrifice was the only option.

Bringing Randolph off the bench attacks two potential problems for the Grizzlies. Initially, it alleviates the logjam in the lane that pairing Gasol and Randolph posed as Fizdale tries to create maximum space for shooters and playmakers. Secondly, it gives the team’s work-in-progress second unit an established anchor with more than 16,000 points and 9,000 rebounds of career production.

And, Fizdale insists, it also gets Randolph acclimated with a role that could extend his career a few more years beyond the end of his current expiring contract.

“He’s been incredible about the whole situation,” Fizdale said. “And like I told him, ‘Most likely, no one is going to pay you to be a starter from here on out. So let’s audition you for what you can be for the rest of your career.’ And it really clicked with him. We’re going to go after Sixth Man of the Year. I want to highlight the hell out of him in that second unit.”

That means Randolph, 35, is expected to come off the bench again in Thursday’s preseason game against Atlanta at FedExForum, with power forward JaMychal Green starting alongside Gasol at center. Randolph played with the second unit in the exhibition opener Monday and finished with two points, five rebounds and a steal in the Grizzlies’ 102-97 victory over Orlando. He played only 10 minutes, but Fizdale did not use most of his rotation veterans in the second half.

Making the mental adjustment to a backup role last season led to an easier transition this time around. But the switch to the bench under former coach Dave Joerger last year was a short-lived move because of a combination of ineffective overall play in stretches and injuries that ravaged the roster.

“Last year played a big part in preparing myself for it,” said Randolph, who had 53 starts in 68 games last season while averaging 15.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. “It’s basically (about) just splitting up, having power off the bench, scoring off the bench and working it like that. I feel like I could be a starter, of course, and carry a team and play through the end. But I’m being positive.”

As a veteran who’s averaged nearly 32 minutes a night over 984 games, Randolph said he appreciated how Fizdale, “looked me in the eye and told me man to man” about why his role was being altered.

Zach Randolph on coming off the bench

The Grizzlies’ prideful and physical Grit ‘N’ Grind era has produced six consecutive playoff appearances, highlighted by a trip to the 2013 Western Conference Finals. But Memphis has also finished 27th, 26th, 30th and 29th the past four seasons in pace, which is defined as number of possessions per 48 minutes.

Fizdale wants the Grizzlies to move faster and more efficiently on offense, with enough space in the lane for point guard Mike Conley to create at the basket or spread the ball to open shooters. The franchise committed max contracts in the offseason to both Conley and forward Chandler Parsons mainly for that reason. As an assistant on Miami Heat teams that advanced to four consecutive NBA Finals and won two titles by prioritizing pace and spacing, Fizdale has a track record for success with this system.

And dealing directly with players in a no-nonsense, accountable way lends Fizdale the credibility to convince veterans to buy in to his vision. Randolph was the first example in Memphis.

“Zach handled it very well – I think he really liked the way Fizdale approached him,” Conley said. “He laid everything out on the table and was about as transparent as you can get. And Z-Bo seems to be on board with it. We’ll see how everything unfolds over the next few months.”

Fizdale relayed some details Wednesday as to how Randolph initially reacted to their meeting.

“We were done talking about it, and he went straight into the locker room to Marc and said, ‘Hey, I’m coming off the bench. Don’t worry about it. I’ll anchor the bench,’” Fizdale said of Randolph’s immediate reaction at the time. “And Marc came to me and said, ‘What did you say to Zach to make him take it so lightly?’ I was very direct. I spelled out how I’m going to utilize him.”

Gasol admitted he might not have taken it so well.

“Coach showed us the numbers for (Randolph’s) career, and for a guy like that to come off the bench and accept it and embrace it, that shows you how much Zach cares about this,” Gasol said. “It’s not easy to do that. He accepted it as well as it can be accepted. I’ve never been in that position and I hope I’ll never be. I honestly told him he’s a better man than I am (laughs).”

Ultimately, the move calibrates the rotation for Fizdale.

“Everybody’s talked about that all offseason, ‘What kind of second unit will they have? They can’t score,’” Fizdale said of skeptics. “Well, guess what? We can score now. We’ve got a legitimate, bonafide scorer in that second unit. And I think he’s going to be a problem for backup fours and fives.”

Well, that’s about as subtle as Fizdale gets.

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