Lofty expectations are like promises and guarantees: impossible to live up to. In sports, once a team gives us a glimpse of its potential, expect it to be that all of the time.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, regardless of changes, circumstances or the fact that the defending champion Golden State Warriors are playing at a historic level, nothing dilutes the expectations of a team hoping to contend for a ring. It can force a team with a winning record to seek out drastic change. It can force panic. High expectations can almost be a curse.
No one is saying the Grizzlies (14-12) are cursed. Far from it. But the expectations that have been placed on them -- remember, they took two games and the series lead from the Warriors in last season's playoffs (and had it not been for an eye injury to point guard Mike Conley Jr. ...) -- are being rightfully held against them. By fans, the media and themselves.
Big man Zach Randolph remains, even as he's started coming off the bench in Memphis' attempt to restructure its offensive, the heart of the Grizzlies. As he balls, so do they. So will they. And he knows this. See, he has set high expectations, too.
Scoop Jackson: You all are hard to figure out. From game to game, you all can look like totally different teams. Can you put your finger on this team?
Zach Randolph: Man ... not being the prettiest team, not being the most athletic team, not the best shooting team, I think it's our heart. That's what defines us, that's who we are. It's our grit and our grind. Honestly. That's how we started, that's how we started winning, that's how we are going to win.
I came here, and we started changing the organization around. That's that grit and grind and hard work and believing, man. You forget there was a time when nobody believed in us, counted us out. People used to think of the Memphis Grizzlies, they'd be like, "Ah, they ain't nobody." And now, even when we lose, it's not like that anymore.
Scoop: That's expectations. That happens to every team once the culture of the organization starts changing. Have you grown along with those expectations?
Randolph: In our minds everybody still counts us out, but we still believe in ourselves. Even though we haven't been playing our best, the way we want to play, the season is still early. We still believe that we are one of the best teams in the league. We believe that. But we have to accomplish that [on the court]. Our confidence is high. We know we can compete with anybody.
Scoop: It's just a matter of proving it.
Randolph: That's all it is, man.
Scoop: What's the fundamental difference in you all now than, say, two seasons ago -- let's go there -- since Rudy [Gay] has been gone and since Lionel [Hollins] has been gone?
Randolph: I think our maturity and being together. You know that core being together so long -- me and Marc [Gasol], then Mike [Conley] and TA [Tony Allen]. And everyone's work ethic has improved.
Scoop: The Warriors seem to have everyone thinking that all of the other teams, especially in the West, are playing for second place. What stops you from thinking that way?
Randolph: We just believe we can win. Same thing I said earlier.
The Warriors, you gotta give credit where credit is due. I mean, they have the best player in the league, the MVP right now in Stephen Curry, and their confidence is high. But we still believe that we can compete with anybody, we really do. In the playoffs, in a seven-game series, with everyone healthy ... man, we can play with anybody.
Scoop: But isn't that hard to keep believing when you lose to the Spurs (by 37) and to the Warriors (by 50) and to teams like OKC?
Randolph: Man, those teams like that, like the Spurs, that's where we want to get to. They beat us pretty good, but we know where we have to get to. And we believe we can get there if we keep working.
Scoop: I was watching you all the other day, dissecting the roster. The one thing you all are missing is that J.J. Redick, that dude who can nail it from 30 feet.
Randolph: Yes, sir! I knew you were going to say that!
Scoop: If you all had that, it'd be a wrap.
Randolph: That's it. Like you said, that's what we are missing. Because [teams] put so much pressure on us in the paint. But we get by, I mean, we've been doing it for the last couple of years. We still had a chance and we still got a chance, you know.
Scoop: You aren't the lone superstar on the Grizzlies anymore. But how much of the success or failure of the team do you still put on yourself? Like, when you first got here, it was damn-near all on you. Are you still that "it's all on me" guy?
Randolph: That's just the type of person I am, Scoop. I've always been a person like that. Even though we have the big fella [Marc], who is an All-Star, and Mike, who is one of the top-five point guards in the league, and Tony, one of the best defenders, I'm just that type of guy who still puts it on myself.
I put a lot on my shoulders because I still believe that I have a lot to give in this game and I want to win and I want to be a part of the reason we win. Take the pressure off them. It makes it easier.
Scoop: Your personal numbers overall this season are down. Are you concerned with that at all?
Randolph: Ah'naw, man. As long as we are winning. Like I said, I have an All-Star point guard and an All-Star center, one of the best centers in the game, man ...
One thing about it, I'm going to go out there and give my 100 percent effort for this team and this organization and my guys. Night in and night out. And if that's [me getting] 10 points, 10 rebounds, five assists or 20 points and 15 rebounds and three assists, as long as we get that "W" and I make everybody better, that's what it's all about.
Scoop: It seems like the experts tend to leave you out a lot when discussing the top power forwards in the game.
Randolph: That's great! I've been getting left out my whole life, man. So that ain't no secrets. Where I come from, it's just a blessing I'm here, Scoop. You know that. They've been leaving me out my whole life. I have to earn it, man. That's why I work hard. I'm hungry and I stay hungry.
Scoop: So a year from now, if I interview you, what's going to be different?
Randolph: Hopefully we'll be talking about a championship. Talking about that ring and that journey. And that's real s--- , Scoop. That's the focus. Getting that ring and winning a championship. That's all we're trying to do.