Blazer forward opts to polish his skills in summer league
There is no slack in Zach Randolph.
That's why at a time when he could be sipping vodka martinis poolside or swatting drives at the country club, the power forward is in Salt Lake City, leading the Trail Blazers' contingent entered in the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league.
After Portland completes its schedule this weekend, Rocky Mountain Revue organizers may elect to retire Randolph's No. 50. Two years ago, as a baby-faced rookie, the Michigan State product was the league's most valuable player. Last summer, Randolph made the all-league team. If there is a Revue Hall of Fame, he's a shoe-in.
'BMOC' is what coach Maurice Cheeks laughingly calls Randolph in relation to the Blazers' summer team: big man on campus.
That's OK, but Randolph desires much, much more. The 6-9, 250-pound forward has a prime-time future ahead of him if the 2003 NBA playoffs were any indication. In the seven games, the last four as a starter, Randolph averaged 13.8 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds while shooting .525 from the field and .892 from the foul line.
Portland coaches gave Randolph the option of skipping summer league, 'but I wanted to go,' says Randolph, who turned 22 last week. 'I like playing. I'm young. I want to work hard and get better.'
Last season, Randolph proved he can play in the NBA, averaging 8.4 points while shooting .513 through the regular season. At times he was spectacular at the offensive end, never more so than on April 11: He collected 31 points and 20 rebounds, including 11 off the offensive glass, in a 96-93 loss to Memphis.
But Randolph probably is just getting started on the way to becoming what he can be in the NBA. He's taking nothing for granted, which is part of the reason he's in Salt Lake City this week instead of at an exotic vacation spot.
'Ain't nothin' guaranteed,' he says. 'I showed last year when I get the opportunity, I can do something with it. I deserve to play, but I have to show them I'm ready. Coach (Maurice Cheeks) ain't going to give nobody nothing, but he's going to give everybody a chance.'
Randolph will get plenty of opportunities next season.
'We've got to get Zach on the floor,' Cheeks says. 'Just showing his ability like he did in the playoffs, we know he can be an amazing player for us.'
Randolph's strengths are obvious. His left-handed hook and baseline jumper are top-drawer. He runs the floor effectively. And he's remarkable as a quick jumper following his shot or someone else's.
'Zach has already shown us that given court time, he's able to score and rebound, and I put it in that order,' assistant coach Jimmy Lynam says. 'His ability to make baskets in limited time is outstanding, and I would call his rebounding pretty good. He has the ability to be an even better rebounder Ñ I mean, a guy who can average a rebound every three minutes.'
Cheeks wants Randolph to work on his right hand. Lynam mentions defense.
'He has to be able to guard real people,' Lynam says, meaning franchise players rather than those in summer league. 'A starting power forward in the West sees Chris Webber tonight, Kevin Garnett tomorrow night, Tim Duncan the next.
'You have to be able to keep those guys in reasonable check without getting in foul trouble, and Rasheed (Wallace) does that. He guards big forwards better than any guy in basketball except maybe Duncan.
'The other thing I like about Zach is his ability to create with the ball. He is going to draw a lot of defensive attention, and he can get baskets for his teammates. He has to work at penetrating and making a pass.'
Cheeks started Randolph alongside Wallace on the front line in the playoffs against Dallas, but the third-year coach knows he can't use that tactic against every opponent. If Wallace isn't traded, he will be the starter, with Randolph battling for playing time.
'Rasheed is a great player, and he has helped me out,' Randolph says. 'But I have a lot of confidence in myself. We play the same position. I want to play, too. I don't want to sell myself short. I know I ain't got no starting spot, but I want to earn it. I am going to come in, work hard and try to earn my spot.'
Cheeks wishes Arvydas Sabonis would return, if only to make his presence felt when on the court with Randolph.
'Zach will miss Sabas because he was always looking to drop the ball down low to Zach,' Cheeks says. 'But Zach helps Rasheed a lot, too. Zach takes care of the dirty work under the basket and allows Rasheed to go outside a lot, where he likes to be. Rasheed can do a lot of different things, but we know Zach will be banging the boards and scoring down low.'
The Blazers appear to be beginning a transitional phase, with some veterans being moved out of the picture and youngsters such as Randolph and Qyntel Woods taking on expanded roles.
Randolph already envisions what he would like to think is in the Blazers' future.
'I watched the NBA Finals in June,' he says. 'Sure looked good when (the San Antonio Spurs) were holding the trophy up. I wish that could have been us.
'I won a state championship in high school. Got to the Final Four at Michigan State. Hopefully, we will win an NBA title here one day. That's my dream.'