Zach Randolph will come off the bench for the 1st time in 14 years

Ball Don't Lie
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3531/" data-ylk="slk:Zach Randolph">Zach Randolph</a> ponders life on the bench. (Ezra Shaw/ Getty Images)
Zach Randolph ponders life on the bench. (Ezra Shaw/ Getty Images)

The Memphis Grizzlies took several steps this summer to adjust and modernize their patented grit-n-grind approach in the hopes that they can avoid another early playoff exit. New max-contract forward Chandler Parsons will bring badly needed outside shooting and another playmaking option, while various role players and rookies will be asked to inject more new blood. The Grizzlies will still rely on their old style, but if everything goes according to plan they’ll have some new looks, too.

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That change will naturally affect the roles of the team’s preexisting stars. In one case, that means a player who’s been synonymous with the Grizzlies’ success will come off the bench. From Ronald Tillery for The Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

Randolph, a major force as a starter during the Grizzlies six-year playoff run, will enter his 16th NBA season as a reserve. Fizdale revealed the move Wednesday when asked by The Commercial Appeal about whether Randolph would start this season.

Randolph, 35, will be replaced in the starting lineup by third-year forward JaMychal Green. That is how the Griz began their preseason schedule Monday during a win over the Orlando Magic.

“He’s been incredible about the whole situation. He’s embracing that role,” Fizdale said about Randolph. “Like I told him, ‘Most likely no one is going to pay you to be a starter from here on out. Let’s audition you for what you can be for the rest of your career.’ And it really clicked with him. And we’re going to go after Sixth Man of the Year. I want to highlight the hell out of him in that second unit. I want him to be a leader in that second unit.” […]

“I’m fine with it,” Randolph said. “You know how I am. Whatever is best for the team. I feel like I can be a starter, of course, and carry a team like I did last year. But I’m being positive and staying ready. If Coach (Fizdale) wants me to play 10 minutes, I’ll come in and play the hardest 10 minutes.”

Fizdale informed Randolph of his decision near the start of training camp. The move is designed to help the starters begin games with a quicker pace and add scoring punch to the second unit.

Tillery also notes that Fizdale has not sold this move as a demotion for Randolph, which suggests that he could still close out games. Randolph seems OK with it, to his credit, and apparently even welcomed Fizdale’s honesty and forthright reasoning for the move as signs of respect. Everyone involved seems to deserve credit for the way they’re handling the situation. That especially goes for Z-Bo, who hasn’t regularly come off the bench since his second NBA season with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2002-03.

The logic of the decision makes sense. Randolph turned 35 in July and averaged fewer than 30 minutes per game last season, clear signs that the effects of a long career are beginning to catch up with him. For that matter, he and Gasol simply no longer have the athleticism to defend many of the league’s smaller frontcourts for long periods of time. Starting the more nimble Green should let the Grizzlies play faster while simultaneously allowing Parsons to assume the offensive burden he was brought in to take. If it all goes to plan, Randolph will thrive off the bench and be in the mix for the Sixth Man of the Year trophy.

The lack of controversy here doesn’t make this the hottest story in the NBA today, but it is a notable sign of how the Grizzlies are trying to change heading into 2016-17. It’s entirely possible that Fizdale will opt to reinsert Z-Bo into the starting lineup if this plan doesn’t work out. For now, though, one of the NBA’s unique and most enjoyable starting frontcourts has been broken up. It’s the end of an era, in a way, even if Randolph and Gasol are still wearing the same uniform.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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