Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph isn’t a stranger to trade talks.
The 31-year-old veteran, in fact, has changed teams three times during his 12-year stint in the NBA.
So when asked during the team’s shootaround Friday morning to assess the latest trade rumors surrounding teammate Rudy Gay, Randolph was quick to concede that such ongoing discussions have provided the streaking Grizzlies with a renewed sense of morale, something that was seemingly nonexistent for a majority of the month of December when the team generated a 7-7 mark.
The Grizzlies, who play the San Antonio Spurs Friday night in FedExForum, enjoyed their best road trip of the season, winning each of their three games on the West Coast this week, including a resounding 113-81 win at Sacramento Monday night. During those three games, Gay, the team’s leading scorer, averaged 15.1 points, including eight points against the Kings. It was the third time this season that the Grizzlies’ franchise player was limited to single digits in scoring.
Still, Memphis, which boasts the NBA’s third-best record, didn’t appear affected this week by increasing speculations involving a possible trade for Gay as the February 21 trade deadline looms, producing their longest winning streak since mid-December.
“It’s not a distraction,” Randolph said of constant trade discussions. “It’s part of the business. It’s nothing new. (Gay) is no rookie. He’s a seven or eight-year veteran in this league. So he understands that’s how it be sometimes.”
Contrary to various media reports that mentioned the Grizzlies were in preliminary talks with other teams that Gay could be available as early as the before the trade deadline and that the Phoenix Suns were heavily pursuing the 26-year-old small forward, Randolph said he strongly believes the former UConn star and Baltimore native will complete his seventh full season in Memphis.
“I definitely do,” said Randolph who, before joining the Grizzlies in 2009, played for Portland, New York, and the Los Angeles Clippers. “I do. I mean, he’s been here. He’s one of the best small forwards in the NBA.”
Gay, who averages 17.8 points per game, attended the 90-minute shootaround session Friday, then remained on the FedExForum court for about a half an hour afterward to take part in free throw drills with teammates Jerryrd Bayless and Hamed Haddadi.
Prior to the team’s three-game road trip last week, Gay said among the reasons he is considered an “easy target” for a possible midseason trade is that the Grizzlies have been struggling with luxury tax issues for some time. Currently, the team reportedly is over the tax line by more than $4 million, and trading Gay — who, in July 2010, signed a five-year, $82 million extention — would provide the team with much flexibility to upgrade its roster in the future.
Like Randolph, center Marc Gasol believes such evolving talks regarding a possible Gay-for-trade sweepstakes have only enhanced the camaraderie among the Grizzlies, especially during what undoubtedly will be a pivotal stretch in their schedule leading to the All-Star break.
“It was good for us because we won games,” said Gasol, alluding to Memphis’ three road wins this week. “We played better basketball. We were consistent. It doesn’t get any easier. I like playing in front of my home crowd, but it’s always good to go to somebody’s place and get a win. It’s a great feeling.”
What is equally gratifying said Gasol, at least since he was traded by the Los Angeles Lakers to the Grizzlies in 2008, is having the chance to play alongside Gay. However, whether they will remain teammates beyond the trade deadline remains unclear.
“It’s nothing within our control,” said Gasol, when asked if he believes Gay will finish the season with the Grizzlies. “We have to do what we have to do and that’s do our job on the court. Whatever happens off the court is not under our control. He’s a great guy. He’s a great player, a unique talent, and I’ve been with him the whole way. He’s a guy I consider my friend and probably my family.”