The heavily criticized front office was on a mission over the offseason to bring the Grizzlies back to mediocrity.
To their own surprise, the Grizzlies have surpassed everyone's low expectations and the front office’s surprising moves have seemed to pay off. The key to the Grizzlies rise to the Western Conference elite is the acquisition of talented NBA journeyman Zach Randolph.
Zach Randolph has always had the talent to be an elite power forward in the NBA, but locker room problems and a "me-first" attitude held back respect out of the rest of the NBA.
And rightfully so.
Randolph's big numbers on the offensive end were ignored due to inconsistency, a mediocre field goal percentage, and a lack of effort on the defensive end.
The Grizzlies tried to get Randolph in last season's trade deadline, but the Clippers pulled out of a deal in the last second.
The Grizzlies finally settled a deal in the offseason by trading recently acquired expiring, Quintin Richardson.
After already getting criticized for the infamous Pau Gasol deal, the front office once again took heat for acquiring a player that has simply been described as a "loser" and "cancer."
Randolph was ready to shake off the criticism from day one.
“The past is the past,” said Randolph, "I don’t even really want to talk about the past…From this day on, I want to erase all that. I do care about what people say about me and what people write in the paper, because a lot of people know me. I’ve got a bad perception. I just want to start a new chapter and just move forward and don’t look back. Be positive and help the team win.”
Randolph took no time to start rebuilding his image by losing proximately 15 pounds over the offseason, following the footsteps of his teammate Marc Gasol who lost over 25.
Randolph, who has never been a freak athletically by any means, is now more nimble around the basket and has quicker post moves that he did not have before.
Randolph is now averaging career highs in points, rebounds, offensive rebounds, and is averaging the highest field goal percentage since his sophomore season.
With Randolph's improvement statistically and as a teammate, the casual fan often ignores Randolph's new found commitment to defense.
Often labeled as lazy, Randolph has now become the team’s workhorse on both ends of the floor. Although there may not be a stat that shows it, Randolph is one of the team's hardest working players on the defensive end.
You won't ever see him locking down opposing team’s big men like Kendrick Perkins does or blocking shots like Dwight Howard does, but the effort on the defensive end is definitely there.
An effort on the defensive end was unheard of in Randolph's previous stops.
The team's hard work put in over the offseason has paid off as the Grizzlies stand only a half game out of the eighth seed in the always difficult Western Conference.
All the so called "experts" of ESPN predicted the Grizzlies would finish no more than 11th in the Western Conference, with most of them predicting they finished thirteen or fourteen.
John Hollinger of ESPN.com said, "With Allen Iverson, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, and O.J. Mayo fighting one another for shots, this team puts the "Me" in Memphis. Griz won't be a playoff threat, but will threaten the record for fewest assists by a team in an NBA season."
The team is still last in the league in assists per game, but there is a surprising balance and generosity between the team.
With a team full of ball dominating scorers, the assists per game category does not show how willing the Grizzlies are to pass the rock.
Zach Randolph may very well be the team's MVP to everyone's surprise. If he keeps it up, do not be surprised if the Grizzlies are playing games once the regular season is done.
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