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GRITGRINDGRIZZ: Zach Randolph checks out in classic Z-bo style

If we’re being honest, recent news of Zach Randolph’s retirement is a surprise to pretty much no one. In fact, given how it was announced, you might be tempted to believe Randolph was surprised he actually had to say it.

Lee Eric Smith

TMZ.com is known for posting up with cameras outside various spots in Los Angeles, then ambushing whatever celeb comes out of the door and peppering them with as many questions as possible until the celeb walks off or threatens violence.

Anyway, this TMZ reporter caught Z-Bo on his way into a hotel, trying to get a comment about Ja Morant and his nasty near-dunk on Cleveland’s Kevin Love. Z-Bo, as I have seen in many locker room interviews, was polite but brief. “Ja is special,” Randolph said. “All those young fellas on the Grizzlies are special.”

With Randolph about to disappear into the hotel, the reporter was desperate to get one more question in . . .

“You still working on an NBA comeback?”

Randolph smiled and shrugged. “Nah . . . nah,” he said.

And that was it – at first. A Saturday tweet made it officially official. The language was much prettier, that’s for sure.

“I gave this game my all, and it gave everything back and more. Basketball will always be a part of me,” Randolph posted, making a point to thank family, coaches and fans throughout his career. “Special thank you to the Memphis Grizzlies and the entire city which I will forever call home…. One love – Z-Bo.”

Writing on the wall

But even as he was bullying his way to becoming a Memphis legend, the rest of the league was leaving him and his low-post game behind. We had seen evidence of it for years.

For me, that turning point was the 2015 Playoff Series against Golden State, before the first championship of their dynastic run. That series was notable for many reasons, including the “Mike Conley Mask” game, and Tony Allen “turning off the water” on Klay Thompson on defense.

The Grizzlies ground their way to a 2-1 lead in that series, but they labored to score and had to play near-perfect defense to win. Meanwhile, Golden State was never more than a Steph Curry-barrage away from a 15-20 point run that could decide the game and often did.

In the end, the “Smash Brothers” low-post game of Randolph and Marc Gasol was no match for the distance bombs launched by Splash Brothers Curry and Klay Thompson. Threes are worth more than twos. The game was evolving out to the arc and away from Randolph’s reliable 20 points and 10 rebounds.

By 2017, even diehard Grizz fans knew it was time to move on for basketball reasons, no matter how much we loved Randolph. That’s why even Grizzlies fans were surprised when the Sacramento Kings offered Z-Bo a two-year $20 million deal in 2017.

Well, that two-year deal expired last summer, making Randolph a free agent. And . . . well, to no-one’s surprise, the market is thin for a 38-year-old post player whose already shaky defense has been further eroded by age.  Sooo . . .

“You still working on an NBA comeback?”

“Naw . . . . Naw,” Randolph grinned.

Fond memories

Former teammates expressed their admiration for Randolph after his announcement.

“One of the best teammates you could have. He gave it his all out there every time he touched the basketball court,” said former Grizz and current San Antonio Spur Rudy Gay. “He was an enforcer and he did a lot for the city of Memphis. He was a great player.”

“One of the nicest human beings that I truly admire. Salute to his hard work and dedication to the game,” said fellow Grizzlies icon Tony Allen. “Ultimately, he is my brother and one of the pioneers of the GNG era.”

Even Scottie Pippen, who played with a young Randolph on the Portland Trailblazers, shouted out his former teammate.

“Got to play with Z-Bo as he entered the league in Portland and loved seeing him thrive in Memphis,” Pippen said. “A great talent who had an amazing feel for the game. All the best in retirement my man!”

Run it back

So what will a 38-year-old multimillionaire do with himself now that he’s retired? He’s sold his Memphis mansion, and was spotted in Los Angeles chatting with former teammate JaMychal Green, after the Clippers beat the Lakers on Christmas. He’s launched a hip-hop music label, N-Less Entertainment. He’ll stay busy.

Eventually, Randolph’s No. 50 jersey will hang in the FedExForum rafters, along with other members of “The Core Four.” And given his brand strength in Memphis, there’s probably a role for him with the Grizzlies, if he wants it. Tony Allen hops on the mic with Chris Vernon weekly on his Grind City Media podcast; if there’s mutual interest, I have to imagine the team could make something happen.

Me? I hoping he gets the itch just “one mo ‘gain” – and suits up in The Big 3, where NBA stars of old – OK, just old NBA stars – play classic 3-on-3 action in the summer.

But like anyone who remembers the playoff magic that Randolph and the Core Four manufactured, I’m grasping for a way to hold on – I don’t want to believe I’ve seen the last of Zach Randolph on a basketball court.

I mean, a snowball’s chance in hell is still, technically, a chance, right?

Fortunately, the TMZ reporter threw one last snowball at Randolph for me, right after the “Nah, nah” retirement: “What about coaching?”

Z-Bo flashed a familiar grin – the grin he’d politely flash when he was done answering reporters in the locker room after games.

“I don’t know!” he chuckled before disappearing.

So . . . . you’re saying there’s a chance . . .

GRIND ON . . .

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