Friday, May 28, 2010

Here We Go Again: Sorting Though the Zach Randolph Mess

Posted By on Fri, May 28, 2010 at 12:23 AM

By now, everyone who cares about the Memphis Grizzlies knows about Zach Randolph's latest troubles, most significantly his implication in a drug case in his native Indiana, but also a report of his connection with an assault at a Los Angeles strip club. In both cases, the direct subject of the allegation is not Randolph but rather an associate of his, an old story for those familiar with Randolph's notorious — but unseen or unnoticed in Memphis — "Hoop Family" entourage. (As Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden quipped, Randolph may be "posse-whipped.")

Roughly 24 hours after the initial report on the Indianapolis drug case first emerged, I'm just now getting a chance to dig into the story. Let's look at what we now know about the case — I'm focusing on the Indianapolis case here, which seems much more serious —  and where things could go.

What We (Seem To) Know

Based on a probable cause affidavit submitted by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department detective Ryan Graber, what seems to have happened is this:

A confidential informant gave the IMPD a tip about drug-related activity connected to Randolph and his suburban Indianapolis home, with specific information about a Randolph associate named Arthur Boyd.

After watching the residence and detecting activity consistent with a drug-dealing operation, IMPD officers pulled over Boyd, driving a 2008 Cadillac Escalade. The car ended up being registered to Randolph and after a subsequent search (the legal details of which could end up being an issue), a cooler was found containing more than 90 grams of marijuana separated into bags. There were also hidden compartments in the car, one of which included a round of ammunition. There was also paperwork connected to a self-storage unit also registered to Randolph. An investigation of the storage unit led to a K-9 unit detecting "positive indications for the presence of controlled substances" and the impounding of three custom Chevrolet Impalas, which apparently did not have door handles and were equipped with electronic keyless entry. The cars apparently had not been searched at the time the affidavit was written. Boyd was arrested for "dealing and possession of marijuana."

In the affidavit, Graber refers to Randolph as "the financier for known drug dealers in Indianapolis," but beyond information given by the referenced confidential informant, there doesn't seem to be enough evidence in the affidavit to support quite that strong of a claim.

In the initial media account of this case, posted yesterday by Channel 6 television in Indianapolis, a Lt. Jeff Duhammell is quoted on Randolph's connection to the investigation:

"Whether he is a specific target, that I don't know," he said. "But looking at his ownership of the vehicles, he should be aware of who's driving and operating them and possessing illegal narcotics in his vehicles. That in and of itself brings up questions."

That may sound like common sense, but it seemed to be a little presumptuous from a legal standpoint, and Indiana officials have been walking those comments back over the past day.

A later story in the Indianapolis Star reports that IMPD officials say Randolph "is not a target of a drug investigation."

An Associated Press story includes a noticeably more cautious quote from Duhammell:

"The investigation has basically been associated with Arthur Boyd and it just so happens that Boyd has access to his (Randolph's) vehicles," said Lt. Jeff Duhamell.

Most recently is a Channel 6 update that has Indianapolis officials backing off Randolph a little bit, at least publicly:

"That Randolph owns the vehicles and the house, that in and of itself is not enough to charge someone," Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said.

Predictably, Randolph has issued a statement distancing himself from the drug charges:

I have been very intentional in distancing myself from anything that would jeopardize my personal and professional relationships.


It is so unsettling to work so hard at rebuilding the trust of the Grizzlies organization, my teammates and my family only to have my image tarnished by someone else’s questionable behavior.

Also predictably, the Grizzlies, via Chris Wallace, issued a statement of cautious support, concluding with this:

“Due to the ongoing police investigation, we do not feel it would be appropriate to comment further. Unless some other information surfaces, Zach remains a valued member of the Grizzlies family and Memphis community.”

The Fallout

Let's start from a strictly legal perspective. It's impossible to know at this point, but after reading the affidavit and discussing it with someone who has experience in dealing with these types of criminal cases, it seems quite possible — even likely — that Randolph will not be charged in this case. This depends on how aggressively the Indianapolis authorities choose to pursue the Randolph angle, the quality of their informant, and whether Boyd provides any incriminating information about Randolph. Saying Randolph is not currently a target of the investigation doesn't preclude him from becoming one. But despite the over-hyped initial media reaction to the story (the word "kingpin" got thrown around), this all may well go away as it relates to legal jeopardy for Randolph.

But even if that's the case, Randolph is still tarred here. An acknowledged associate did indeed leave a house he (Randolph) owns, in a car he (Randolph) owns, with a package of drugs in a form and amount that implies intent to sell. (And this is to say nothing of the embarrassment, if not criminal culpability, of the strip-club incident popping up fewer than 24 hours later.)

Randolph passing the incident off as merely the result of "someone else's questionable behavior" is simply not credible based on Randolph's long track record of off-court problems. In fact, it's pathetic. Even if Randolph doesn't have any operational control or direct involvement in a drug dealing operation — an allegation implied by initial media reports but not really supported by the evidence that has emerged so far — it doesn't seem reasonable to believe Randolph would not know about his associates engaging in these types of activities using his property.

Looking Back

I'm not going to use these latest incidents to defend my initial opposition to the Randolph acquisition because, as I made clear in my player notes last week, I still thought Randolph was the wrong long-term move even before these stories emerged.

There were several reasons why I thought Randolph was the wrong play for the Grizzlies and continued to think so despite his terrific first season with the team, and many of those reasons had nothing to do with his off-court questions.

But some of them did, and regardless of what happens legally with these two incidents, it is clear that off-court behavior is back at the very top of the list of Randolph concerns. In the team's last summer of holding significant cap space before contract extensions for incumbent players such as Rudy Gay would kick in, the Grizzlies had the chance to add one or more significant, stable long-term pieces to their team. Instead, under the direction of owner Michael Heisley, they used those resources to gamble on an expensive two-year deal for the troubled Randolph and a one-year gimmick signing of Allen Iverson. It was a misguided strategy at the time and it remains a misguided strategy.

This reminder of Randolph's lingering off-court problems — exposing as myth and naive hope the idea that he'd moved beyond all that —  only underscores that reality.

Looking Ahead

Given how slowly the legal system works, it is unlikely we'll have total clarity on how the Indianapolis case will — or will not — impact Randolph's career before next month's NBA draft or the onset of free agency in early July. And I'm loath to speculate too much on how the Grizzlies should deal with Randolph going forward until more information comes out. But, for now, these incidents seem to impact at least two pressing issues: The question of Randolph's desired contract extension and Rudy Gay's free agency.

The Grizzlies had expressed interest in extending Randolph this summer and Randolph had expressed a desire for a massive extension similar to what the Los Angles Lakers recently gave Pau Gasol. Randolph was never going to get a Gasol extension from the Grizzlies this summer, but might have gotten something significant. Well, you can table that now. If there's anything good for the Grizzlies in all this, it's that this story didn't come out after the team had given Randolph a massive contract extension. With questions about this case likely to linger for a while, the Grizzlies can't risk extending Randolph this summer. That issue — if it comes up at all — will have to wait.

As for Gay: With Randolph's future in doubt — whether in the short term or just at the conclusion of the coming season — the Grizzlies can't afford to let Rudy Gay walk this summer. If the team doesn't resign him, they need to at least negotiate a sign-and-trade that would bring back significant talent. I think the odds were good before this incident that Gay would be on the Grizzlies' roster next season. Now I think those odds are even better.

As far as the long-term ramifications of all this as it relates to the relationship between Randolph and the Grizzlies, I'll hold off for now. Hopefully we'll have at least a somewhat better idea of how serious this is going to be by the time the draft rolls around and can begin to outline Randolph scenarios. For now, I would expect Randolph to be in the opening night lineup for the Grizzlies this fall.


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