Memphis Grizzlies fans knew that the departure of Zach Randolph was inevitable. It was still devastating. For the past eight years, Z-Bo wasn't just one of the Grizzlies best players, he symbolized what the team stood for. Along with Tony Allen (aka The Grindfather), Randolph epitomized the "grit-n-grind" Grizzlies, a team that never seemed to have quite as much talent as the powerhouses of the Western Conference, but managed to consistently compete with them just the same. The Grizzlies still should be fairly competitive (Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are still around), but with Z-Bo signing a two-year $24 million deal with the Sacramento Kings, a memorable and rewarding era of basketball in Memphis has come to an end.
Before Z-Bo caught on with the Grizzlies, he was known largely as a symbol of squandered potential. Sure, he could put up 20 points and ten rebounds a night (he did this with such frequency that he earned the nickname Mr. 20-10), but his teams never seemed to win many games, and his numbers, while impressive, were largely considered to be empty calories.
This was likely why the Grizzlies were able to acquire him in 2009 for the relatively low price of Quentin Richardson. That trade seemed like a minor move at the time, but it wound up defining Grizzlies basketball for years to come. On the surface, Z-Bo's numbers in Memphis were rather similar to what they were in his three previous career stops, but something was different. He had become a much better teammate, and his play style actually fit in with what the rest of the team was doing. In his first year in Memphis, he turned the Grizzlies from a dismal lottery afterthought to a .500 team who could hang with just about anyone. He also made his first All-Star appearance. For the first time, Z-Bo's contributions could not be overlooked or denied.
His second season with the Grizzlies would be even better, as he led them to the first of what has become seven straight playoff appearances. While he was only awarded third-team All-NBA honors for his efforts, Kevin Durant called him the best power forward in the NBA, a compliment Z-Bo responded to by simply saying "I've got to agree with that." Most people would have given that honor to Dirk Nowitzki, who won his lone ring that season, but Randolph was still pretty far up there. As an 8-seed, the Grizzlies pulled of a stunning upset of the 60-win San Antonio Spurs in round one. Randolph has never been known for skills as a three-point shooter, but in Game 3 of the Spurs series, he nailed an inexplicable shot from downtown with 40 seconds left to give Memphis a 91-86 lead they would never surrender. The Grizz won in six games, and would go on to fall one game short of the Western Finals in a brutal seven-game series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but their run served notice to the rest of the league that they had to be taken seriously. As the unquestioned leader in Memphis, Z-Bo had finally found a place where he belonged.
Z-Bo's unrefined, in-the-mud style of play was emblematic of a Grizzlies team that disdained finesse in favor of winning games by getting down and dirty. However, it wasn't just Randolph's play that made him an icon in Memphis, it was also his work within the community. Randolph was well-known for his generosity, as he once paid for utility bills for over 100 needy families within the Memphis area. Z-Bo and the Bluff City were a perfect match for each other, and while his new day job will be in Sacramento, he'll still be a Memphis resident. Even though he's played his last game for Memphis, Zach Randolph will always be an undeniable part of the Grizzlies and the team made that officially official earlier today.
Z-Bo will have his number retired in Memphis, a fitting end for a one-time misfit.