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Back in Memphis, Randolph says he can still carry a team. The Kings want something else

Zach Randolph is emotional in his return to Memphis

Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Kings 106-88 on Friday, January 19 at FedExForum.
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Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Kings 106-88 on Friday, January 19 at FedExForum.

To say everyone at FedExForum was happy to see Zach Randolph on Friday night wouldn’t be much of a stretch.

How else do you explain a “Z-Bo for mayor” chant at the end of the game?

From former teammates, to arena workers to fans wearing his replica jersey, Randolph was showered with admiration before, during and after the Kings’ 106-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

This season is unlike any Randolph experienced in Memphis.

Like the rest of the Kings’ veterans, he’s been told he will sit out games to make time for younger players.

Though the tributes were fit for someone at the end of their career, and Randolph knows he won’t play as much this season, he does not see himself as a player fading into irrelevance.

“Honestly, I’m enjoying every minute of it, man,” Randolph said of the change. “You know, I’ve still got a lot of basketball left and still feel that I can help a team and carry a team.”

Randolph leads the Kings in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.7 points and 6.8 boards entering Friday. In his former home arena, he finished with four points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.

But the Kings do not want Randolph to carry them nightly, as he did when the team played its best earlier in the season. Some nights, his job will be to serve as a cheerleader for his younger teammates.

Kings coach Dave Joerger said circumstances, such as returning to a city with a lot memories, are taken into consideration when deciding when a veteran will be held out of a game.

So it was an easy call that Randolph would play Friday.

“Inside the team he tried to keep like it’s another game,” said point guard De’Aaron Fox. “But once we got here, it’s emotional. We tried to come out here and get the win for him. It just didn’t happen today.”

Memphis did not re-sign Randolph last summer, and he joined the Kings on a two-year, $24 million deal.

The 16-year veteran has played for five teams in his career, but Memphis is his home. It’s where he played eight seasons and made two All-Star teams and helped the Grizzlies become a regular in the playoffs. The Grizzlies plan to retire his No. 50.

The local media presented Randolph with Pro Basketball Writers Association award that honors a player who helped them do their job the best last season.

Randolph was welcomed with a rousing ovation during pregame introductions. There was also a video tribute after the first quarter to salute Randolph’s play in big games and community work.

“That was nice,” Randolph said. “It was very emotional. It was nice. I appreciate the Grizzlies for that and it was nice.”

With so much going on and all the emotions, Randolph admitted it wasn’t easy to play. He said he nearly shed a tear during the video tribute and he might not be able to hold them back later in the evening as he reflects on the night.

“I think for me and Marc (Gasol) too,” Randolph said. “Especially for me and him going at each other. It’s funny because we know each other’s game. If he goes left, I’m not going to let him catch it and sit on his right, so it’s fun.”

The Grizzlies are struggling (16-28), but the Kings (13-32) are worse. They’ve dropped their last seven games and 10 of 11 to fall into a tie with Orlando for the worst record in the NBA.

Randolph, however, is still finding joy in his new role.

“Just being here and helping these guys,” Randolph said. “And being a leader and a mentor to these young guys and showing leadership, is great. I’m just enjoying every minute of it.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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