Zach Randolph thinks he can see the future. He knows he isn’t a part of the plan in Sacramento, but he believes there are big things in store for the Kings.
Randolph learned he was being phased out of the playing rotation when he met with general manager Vlade Divac and coach Dave Joerger before training camp began. They told him they were embracing a youth movement and implementing an up-tempo style that wouldn’t suit a 37-year-old power forward with an old-school game and a 260-pound frame.
“I understand it,” Randolph said. “I want to play, I love to play and I still feel like I’ve got a lot left, but I understand what they’re doing with these young guys.”
Randolph has been away from the team while tending to personal matters in recent weeks. He is expected to rejoin the Kings (6-4) when they begin a four-game home stand against the Toronto Raptors (10-1) on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center, but he will not be in uniform.
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Randolph will hardly recognize the Kings when he returns. They have matched their best start over the first 10 games since 2004-05. They rank second in the NBA in pace and fourth in scoring after finishing last in both categories last season.
Randolph led the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game last season, but the Kings knew they wouldn’t be able to push the pace with him on the floor.
“We kind of knew what was going to happen here – the way we were going to play – and obviously Zach doesn’t fit that style,” Divac said. “The pace that we go up and down, it would be hard on his body, but in the low post, I think he still has it.”
Randolph, now in his 18th NBA season, was listed as inactive for the first 10 games. He isn’t sure if he’ll suit up at all for the Kings this season.
“I don’t know. Not right now,” he said. “I’m just expecting to watch these young guys. You never know how the season goes, but I’ll be ready and prepared to play.”
Randolph said he has not asked the Kings to trade him, but he believes he could help a playoff contender looking to acquire frontcourt depth at the trade deadline.
“We haven’t discussed that yet, but we will,” said Randolph, a two-time All-Star who signed a two-year, $24 million contract with Sacramento in July 2017.
Randolph shares a close personal relationship with Joerger, who coached him for years with the Memphis Grizzlies.
“He’s just a terrific human being,” Joerger said. “He’s a big teddy bear. He’s got a good heart and we have a great relationship, and he respects the heck out of Vlade as well. This is not easy, but he’s been a pro about it, and he’s been very supportive of our young guys.”
Joerger and Divac said Randolph has played a key role in mentoring younger big men such as Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles III and, more recently, Marvin Bagley III.
“I’m always asking him questions,” Bagley said. “We’re both left-handed, so one thing I’ve asked him is how he was able to use that as a strength.”
Cauley-Stein said the team’s youngsters understand the sacrifice Randolph is making.
“He probably wants to play so bad, but we have four other young dudes who gotta play, too,” Cauley-Stein said. “Him being positive is why we love him. Like, man, ‘You can still play and you’re OK with us taking those minutes from you? You’re helping us out?’ It’s all love, man.”
“He was just scoring 30 points last year, so to have to sit out and give up his spot, it’s tough, but it shows how much he cares about us young guys and putting the team first,” Giles said. “It means a lot to us – he means a lot to us. He’s a great guy, somebody I’ve looked up to my whole life and somebody that will be in my corner for the rest of my life. Through the struggles and the successes, I know he’ll be there.”
Randolph has been in Sacramento just long enough to see the team’s future. He believes it is bright, even if he isn’t part of the plan.
“I’m just trying to be a leader and a good locker room guy,” Randolph said. “There’s something here. There’s a lot of young talent, some future All-Stars and some potentially elite players. The sky’s the limit for this team with this talent, and they’re doing what they need to do to get there. It’s not going to be long. You’ve just got to give them time to develop.”