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New York Knicks: Zach Randolph’s return could be a huge help

01/10/2019
Josh Benjamin

If trading Enes Kanter means Zach Randolph returns, the Knicks will have filled a large void.

If Wednesday’s swirling trade rumor is true, the New York Knicks could soon help their young team in an overlooked area.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Knicks have discussed trading center Enes Kanter to the Sacramento Kings. In return, New York would receive a familiar face in veteran big man Zach Randolph.

It’s certainly an intriguing deal, even if the Kings have some more work to do in terms of building it. Randolph is 37 now and no longer a spring chicken. He also hasn’t played at all this season, as Kings coach Dave Joerger took him out of the rotation in order to give more minutes to Sacramento’s younger players. Randolph didn’t even play in any preseason games. He is literally a non-factor for the Kings.

But that’s not an issue in this case. The Knicks don’t need to make this deal so Randolph can capture lightning in a bottle and become a star in the twilight of his career.

Rather, New York should make this deal for one reason in particular. With a roster this young, Randolph can be a much-needed voice of experienced veteran leadership in the locker room.

New York Knicks

A familiar face

How quickly we forget Zach Randolph’s all-too-brief first tenure with the Knicks. He was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers for Steve Francis, Channing Frye, and a second-round pick on draft day in 2007. In return, the Knicks also received Dan Dickau and Fred Jones.

You know, a deal typical of the Isiah Thomas years. That said, let’s move on before we start getting flashbacks.

Randolph was strong in his first season as a Knick. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in 69 games in 2007-08. New York only won 23 games that year, but that was not at all reflective of his skills as a player. Injury to Stephon Marbury aside, this was the season when Thomas truly lost the team. He was fired at season’s end and Mike D’Antoni took over as the coach, while Donnie Walsh ran the front office.

Sure enough, 11 games into the 2008-09 campaign, Walsh traded Randolph and guard Mardy Collins to the Los Angeles Clippers. New York got veterans Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas in the salary dump, but some fans (myself included) were bummed. Sure, Randolph’s contract was clogging the salary cap, but he was averaging 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. New York was 6-5 at the time and any hope that was built up was lost.

Now, New York is in a position to bring him back. Not as a savior, mind you, that ship has sailed. Randolph’s value now is as a locker room leader, which New York desperately needs.

ESNY City Stream

Breaking down the deal

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the Knicks do a straight trade with Sacramento, Enes Kanter for Zach Randolph. On paper, it seems like a terrible deal. After all, Kanter is averaging 14.4 points and 11 rebounds per game. Why would the Knicks give up that production from someone just 26 years old in exchange for an aging veteran?

Well, Kanter has also recently expressed frustration at coming off the bench and Sacramento may have more minutes to offer. Moreover, I recently covered why trading him could prove tough. He is not a strong defender and his VORP is low at just 1.0. By baseball standards, he’s at around a 2.7 WAR. That’s not awful, but certainly not elite.

And, full disclosure, Randolph isn’t much better. Since debuting out of Michigan State in 2001, he has posted a career VORP of 13.6, or a 36.7 WAR. Now, let’s compare that number to that of one of Randolph’s draft classmates, Pau Gasol. The Spanish seven-footer is a year older but has a career VORP of 56.9, or 153.6 WAR.

Thus, from a basketball perspective, New York is basically getting the same player. And at the same time, Randolph’s veteran experience makes him far more valuable than Kanter.

Why it works

Simply put, the Knicks need Zach Randolph to mentor young guys like Kevin Knox, Tim Hardaway Jr., and maybe even Kristaps Porzingis. The man has lasted 17 years in the NBA for a reason and has plenty of advice to give young players.

Not only that, but look at what Randolph did last season at age 36. He only played in 59 games for Sacramento, but still averaged 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds in 25.6 minutes per contest. Weak defensive skills aside, that’s still solid production. Randolph also played for David Fizdale in Memphis for a year, so that pre-existing relationship means no learning curve.

But Randolph’s best value as a Knick will come as a veteran mentor for this young squad still learning how to play together. When push comes to shove, he really only needs to be Mr. Miyagi to everyone else’s collective Daniel-San.

For example, Hardaway Jr. has done a great job stepping up as the team’s go-to scorer, averaging a career-high 20 points per game. The problem is, despite improving his scoring skills in recent years, he’s still shooting just 39.2 percent from the field. He is still learning how to be that alpha dog, much like Randolph was for a good chunk of his career. Randolph’s mentorship in this case, despite playing a different position, would be a great help.

Don’t forget, Randolph also has a year of experience playing in New York, and for a losing team. He almost certainly has some pointers on how to handle that, plus Madison Square Garden’s rowdy fans.

There’s also the fact of Randolph earning just $11.6 million this season compared to Kanter’s $18.6 million. Given New York’s potential free agency plans, that sweetens the idea of this trade.

Final thoughts

Granted, the talks between New York and Sacramento regarding Kanter-for-Randolph have not extended beyond that. It could easily be an afterthought tomorrow.

But the reality is despite his age, Zach Randolph would be a great Knicks addition. Adding him won’t change much, but the core would gain invaluable knowledge from him. One way or another, the deal should happen.

That said, Scott Perry, your move!

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