Ailene Voisin

‘Significant’ win for Zach Randolph in court. Why Kings still should rethink his role

Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph reacts to a referee's call during last season’s NBA playoffs.
Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph reacts to a referee's call during last season’s NBA playoffs. Associated Press file

Zach Randolph and the Kings can, well, exhale at least through this heat wave.

 
Opinion

The veteran power forward – arrested in Los Angeles on Aug. 9 on suspicion of possessing marijuana with intent to sell, a felony – has instead been charged with two misdemeanors.

Randolph, arraigned Thursday in Los Angeles, faces lesser charges of possessing more than one ounce of marijuana and resisting arrest, neither of which is likely to result in a jail sentence, according to legal sources.

The possession charge carries a possible penalty of up to six months in county jail, the resisting charge a year.

The league’s punishment for violating the anti-drug policy also figures to be far more measured, with a short suspension or a fine among the probable sanctions.

“This is a significant victory for him,” said Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire. “Avoiding jail time is his No. 1 priority. He’s probably looking at probation, diversion, counseling, and I could be wrong, but because the charges were reduced, I don’t think he faces significant punishment from the NBA.”

The takeaway from the proceedings? First, the Kings have to grab hold of the situation for the sake of their young roster, and, second, it isn’t the end of the world.

This is a minor incident in a state that has no appetite for wasting precious resources on marijuana prosecutions. Additionally, the NBA anti-drug policy, which was devised jointly with the Players Association, has a relatively liberal position regarding marijuana compared with other drug usage.

According to the collective bargaining agreement: If a player tests positive, is convicted or pleads guilty to marijuana use, he must undergo treatment, counseling and aftercare testing. A second offense results in a $25,000 fine. Any subsequent violations result in a five-game suspension.

Monta Ellis and Reggie Bullock were given five-game suspensions in June, effective the start of the 2017-18 season. Bullock remains on the Detroit Pistons roster, but Ellis was waived by the Indiana Pacers and replaced by free agent and former Kings point guard Darren Collison. One other NBA player of note – former Oklahoma City forward Mitch McGary – was suspended 15 games for repeated marijuana violations prior to last season and never returned to the league.

Randolph was previously suspended two games for driving under the influence, but this is his first violation of the drug policy. The Kings should be encouraged about that. And the fact he’s set to earn $24 million over the next two seasons suggests an intent to share rather than an intent to sell.

But the Kings have their own policy decision to make. Randolph could accept a plea agreement or the charges could even be dropped within the next several weeks (the case has been continued until Sept. 14), but he is still guilty of poor judgment.

Randolph was arrested near the Nickerson Gardens housing project while police attempted to break up a block party they determined had become too large and boisterous. At 6-foot-9, he is a large, high-profile presence and a potential target at crowded gatherings. Hence, the reason so many pro athletes are accompanied to events by security guards.

So what do the Kings do? Make a plan and stick with it, though probably not the one you think. Mostly, they need to be far more cautious about designating players as role models and mentors. One size does not fit all. Not every veteran is suited to counsel the rookies about life in the NBA or, for that matter, life in general.

Despite a history of off-court issues and volatile on-court demeanor, Matt Barnes was acquired a year ago to provide leadership and control the locker room (and DeMarcus Cousins). In December, Barnes was charged with assault and battery in a Manhattan nightclub brawl. Two months later, he was waived and Cousins was traded to New Orleans. After lengthy internal debates, Barnes was signed by the Golden State Warriors for a minimally influential role. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for the incident.

Randolph’s background offers a conflicting, at times uplifting, tale of someone who overcame a difficult childhood that included arrests for underage drinking and battery, turbulent early years with the Portland team referred to as the “Jail Blazers,” and the DUI arrest and suspension during his year with the Los Angeles Clippers. During the past eight seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, he emerged as one of the most beloved members of the community.

“This is obviously not a serious crime, right?” added McCann, who also covers legal issues for Sports Illustrated. “It’s not a violent crime. I wouldn’t be surprised if his lawyers work out a plea agreement and one of the charges is dropped. Like I said: Getting the charges reduced was huge.”

Two prominent local criminal attorneys, speaking off the record, offered similar assessments. One called the charges ridiculous. None of this is funny to the Kings, of course, as the season approaches.

Randolph already has enjoyed a fulfilling career and is within two years of retirement. While that makes him an asset, it doesn’t make him the guy to tutor the kids.

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin

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