Dissecting the Zach Randolph to Memphis Rumors

Let me start by saying that I don't know anything specific about these rumors.  All I have to go on is logical thinking, common sense, and the public statements of MDsr, Neil Olshey and others. 

Having said that, something seems off with these rumors coming out of Memphis. 

To recap, there are two different stories coming from Memphis sports journalists involving a proposed draft day trade of Zach Randolph to the Grizzlies.  The accounts agree on some details, and disagree on others - some of which seem pretty significant.

Here's the basic breakdown:

  • Chris Vernon of radio station 730 Fox Sports in Memphis says that the Grizzlies offered Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner for Randolph but that Donald Sterling nixed the deal at the last minute.  He implies that the Clippers would have done the deal had Darko Milicic been in the package in place of Jaric.
  • Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the deal as Milicic and Buckner for Randolph, but agrees on the detail of Sterling using his veto.

Problems. 

Jaric and Buckner for Randolph makes no sense.  Neither provides any more than bench depth on the perimeter, and are scarcely better than players that may be available to sign for the veterans minimum.  But the part that makes zero sense is that there's very little salary relief in the package - like Randolph, Jaric is signed thru 2011, and Buckner has a player option for 2011 which he is certain to exercise (although ShamSports actually has Buckner's deal as unguaranteed, so that would be nice).  At any rate, trying to get out of paying Zach Randolph $17M in 2011 (he did average 20 points and 10 rebounds after all), by paying Marko Jaric (who averaged 2.6 ppg last season) $7.6M in 2011 seems like a sucker bet. 

Certainly Darko plus Buckner makes sense for the Clippres from a salary cap standpoint, particularly if indeed Buckner's deal is unguaranteed.  But one Memphis guy is reporting confidently that Jaric was the deal-breaker, while a second is reporting just as confidently a deal without Jaric.  So they can't both be right.

It's also curious to note this line from Lisa Dillman's LA Times story this morning:

There is, however, a surprising amount of interest in forward Zach Randolph, massive contract and all, but the Clippers, at least for now, are maintaining they are reluctant to trade a player consistently capable of scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds per game.

In my book, the Grizzlies offering some combination of guys they have no interest in retaining would hardly qualify as 'a surprising amount of interest'.  Of course, it's entirely possible that Dillman is being spun by the Clippers (just as it's possible Vernon and Tillery are being spun by the Grizz), but something just isn't adding up here.

The bigger head-scratcher is the point on which the Memphis rumors agree - Sterling was the guy who killed the deal.

Now let's be clear.  I've been hyper-critical of Donald Sterling's tenure as owner on more than one occasion, and the reports of his meddling are legendary.  But does this even ring true?  MDsr, Olshey, Roeser - all they've said the dozens of times that they've been asked about big man trades since they won the lottery is that they're under no mandate to dump salary, and that they will only make a deal that makes basketball sense.  Now, I'm not naive enough to take that at full face value, but they've said it enough that I tend to believe them that at least they're not in the market for a straight salary dump - which is what the Milicic version of this rumor was (the Jaric version of this rumor was a non-starter on all levels as far as I'm concerned). 

But beyond that, why would Sterling, the famous penny-pincher, be the one to nix either deal?  Are we to believe that MDsr, Olshey and Roeser all signed off on major cost savings, and Sterling was the one who said no?  Like I said, he's a pretty notorious meddler, but that Milicic deal stood to save him almost $26M and would have put the Clippers into position to be major free agency players in 2010.  Why would he veto it if the basketball folks were good with it? 

At the end of the day, let me repeat that I have no idea what happened here.  If Milicic/Buckner was indeed offered, that's a deal you take, so it would be unfortunate if Sterling stuck his nose into that one.  In that sense, Vernon's version of events makes more logical sense to me than Tillery's - but as always, you have to take these reports with a grain of salt, as they obviously can't both be right, and likely neither has all the details.

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