For 50 different reasons you could hate Zach Randolph. He’s boring, he’s whiny and he makes $14 million more than you every single year. He’s routinely arrested – never for anything impressive like train robbery or civil disobedience – but for goof-ups like drinking underage, smoking pot and driving under the influence.
He’s significantly undersized (if compared to a traditional basketball player at all), substantially overweight, and makes that stupid little crying face whenever something doesn’t go his way. He plays for teams we don’t like, he punches guys as they pick themselves off the ground and his back-to-the-basket game is like watching an orca devour colonies of plankton so far as it’s neat in theory, but not something you want to see for 48 minutes straight.
His effortless attitude precedes him, his playoff portfolio is bust and the unfortunate teams that commit to paying his salary can ill-afford to pay anything else.
But the worst part about Zach Randolph is that whether we like it or not he is suspiciously good enough to warrant your attention. Had he any less talent he would have never been named Most Improved as he was in 2003-04, nor become a full-time starter in Portland or posted averages of 20 and 10. He never would have earned his ungodly contract, become so predictably efficient or learned to shoot free throws with the mark of a shooting guard.
What he lacks in affability he makes up for in raw production, specializing not in good humor so much as the maximization of each and every possession. He is tangible and predictable if neither jovial or relatable, and at some point in the grand scheme, the value he contributes (hated or not) is essential to the successful operation of any business.
The “good,” of course, comes part and parcel with “bad” and it’s in that spirit that team front offices look the other way when their 28-year-old poster boy rearranges someone’s face in the lobby of Pizza Cafe. It’s also in that spirit that fans restrain themselves from bludgeoning their general managers in protest of the realization that they’re the ones who just traded for the NBA equivalent of The Old Maid.
Now with the future of Memphis in his meddlesome grasp, the world will watch as the man they call Z-Bo navigates the PR waters of his fourth home in as many years. Like the 18-year-old trouble student trapped amongst the innocent faces of 10th grade shop class, every action will be measured and remeasured by those supervising his presence in an attempt to protect the underdeveloped core of their promising roster.
Only time will tell if the gamble to add offensive prowess to a team that isn’t going anywhere will spoil its fruits or if Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo contain the mettle to resist corruption. If destruction is inevitable there will be no pros to outweigh the con.
But perhaps we’ve been wrong all along and his subtle benefits are enough to push this new team to new heights, sullied reputation and track-record be damned. Only then will Zach Randolph be viewed as legitimate and exempt from our unforgiving bias.