The general consensus about Zach Randolph is that he is among the most admired and well-respected public figures in Memphis.
No one seemingly knows that better than Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.
“We get along very well on and off the court,” Gasol said. “We talk all the time. I mean, the man came all the way to Barcelona (Spain) to my wedding (over the summer). We’re really good friends.”
Gasol was among the first players to congratulate Randolph after the 12-year veteran reached yet another milestone in his All-Star career. Randolph tied the franchise record for career double-double (15 points and 17 rebounds) in Memphis’ decisive 99-81 win Saturday night against the Houston Rockets in FedExForum.
“Who was the other guy?” Gasol jokingly asked after the game.
The “other guy” is Gasol’s older brother, Pau Gasol, who now shares the Memphis’ double-double record with Randolph at 189 apiece. Randolph, to his credit, wasted little time demonstrating that he was primed to carve out history in front of the same fans who have come to embrace the contributions he’s made to the Grizzlies organization since he was traded to by the Los Angeles Clippers following the 2008-2009 season.
Less than five minutes into Saturday’s contest, for instance, Randolph had already accounted for seven rebounds. Then, with 7:04 remaining in the third quarter, he solidified the mark when he scored on a fastbreak layup as Houston’s Patrick Beverly was whistled for a foul.
During a 20-second timeout, the 32-year-old Randolph was mobbed by teammates, who praised him in tying Pau Gasol’s double-double mark as the crowd chanted in unison, “Z-Bo.”
While Randolph appeared blissful to have accomplished such a feat with an organization from which he has publicly said he’d liked to retire, what he deems mostly intriguing is that it transpired during a time in which the Grizzlies are starting to mirror last year’s a team that advanced to the postseason for a third consecutive year.
“We’re getting there,” Randolph told reporters, when asked have the Grizzlies have recovered from their early-season struggles. “I ain’t going to say that right now. We’ve got the big fella (Marc Gasol) back and Mike (Conley) is playing All-Star basketball. But we’re getting there.”
For more proof, look no further than the current standings in the West.
Before Marc Gasol, who missed 23 games after an MCL sprain he suffered Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. After Saturday’s win against Houston that culminated a rare back-to-back versus the Rockets, Memphis, which opens a three-game road trip Tuesday starting at the Portland, is currently two games back of Dallas for the pivotal eighth spot.
That the Grizzlies, winners of nine of their last 12, had managed to hover around the .500 mark before Marc Gasol returned to the lineup was due in large part to the poise and assertiveness Randolph has exhibited in recent weeks, Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.
“He’s been terrific,” Joerger said. “He’s really carried us through a tough stretch with Marc being out and he’s really helped us find our identity without Quincy (Pondexter) and Tony (Allen). He’s been pretty steady and has helped us to compete. He’s a guy who’s always double-teamed, but creates shots for other people.
“I’m just really proud of him because he didn’t quit and say, ‘I’ve got a bigger guy on me, somebody else needs to go get it (rebounds).’ He goes and gets it off the glass and he’s good at calling stuff out for our guards.”
Besides being a vocal presence on the court, Randolph has proven to be just as expressive and resilient, particularly pertaining to business-related matters off the court.
As early as mid-December, for instance, Randolph reportedly was being rumored to be traded by the Grizzlies, news that prompted the two-time All-Star to say that there is “no loyalty” in NBA front offices. Though Randolph admittedly was “hurt” after emerging as the subject of constant trade talks, the Marion, Ind. native assumed what he described as the “businesslike approach” until team officials ultimately announced weeks later that they had no plans of dealing Randolph, who has a $16 million player option for next year.
Given how fans and his teammates responded amid his latest achievement Saturday night, Randolph not only seemed enraptured, but he sounded like a man who has lofty aspirations of adding to what has been a memorable five-year stint with the Grizzlies.
“It feels good,” Randolph said of the double-double record. It’ll be better when I hold the record. I mean, you’ve to go out and put your all into being a part of the community and this organization. You know, this is my town, my fans. And I appreciate the fans. They’ve been great this season and we need them.”
Especially now that the surging Grizzlies are starting to exhibit the same swagger that enabled them to stage a deep playoff run last year.