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Essay: What Does Anthony Randolph’s Contract Mean?

Coming off his fourth season as a professional, in which he averaged 7.4 points on 47% shooting, and 3.6 rebounds per game, Anthony Randolph spent the early parts of his summer searching low and high for a new home. Minnesota, a team that reluctantly acquired Randolph in the three-team blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York, had decided not to extend him a qualifying offer, and just like that, basketball’s personification of a broken promise entered July as an unrestricted free agent.

Randolph met with several teams, including the Hawks and Mavericks, before announcing he’d prefer a return to Golden State. While it’s uncertain just how badly Randolph’s career was endangered as he hunted for an employer, it was widely assumed that if he did in fact land on another NBA team, it’d be for one year and as little money as possible. Guaranteeing anything longer than 82 games for a player who’s yet to show he can crack a regular rotation wouldn’t be the wisest decision; yet what we just saw was one of the league’s smarter general managers deciding to do the exact opposite. My question is a simple one: Why?

For whatever reason, I’ve always had a soft spot for promising talents who’re unable to unlock their private shed of physical tools. Players who can run like gazelles, slam their foreheads into the rim without trying, and consistently show inconsistent flashes of dominance at multiple positions. Randolph is the prototype of this player; I’ve found myself rooting for him throughout his career, from Oakland to New York to Minnesota, and now, finally, to Denver, where Randolph recently signed a three-year, $6 million contract—the largest of his career.

Maybe the deal had something to do with the 28 point, six rebound, five block show Randolph put on against the Nuggets last season. Or—because that’s how a six-year-old would run a professional basketball team—maybe not. Less than two weeks ago, Randolph turned 23. If things manage to turn themselves around, three years from now Randolph could seriously position himself for a major pay day. He’s 6’10″ and appears to have already developed a pretty decent face up game from the post. He knows how to obtain position on smaller defenders, and after receiving an entry pass, is tall enough to get good shots off over them. On a team doomed not to make the playoffs, Randolph spent 15 games last April putting up some pretty good numbers, averaging 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in just 21.9 minutes per game.

What I suspect to be the real reason behind Denver’s decision to take on Randolph for three years at about $2 million per, is the flexibility it gives them on the trade market. The Nuggets aren’t stupid. They’ve compiled a roster full of young, talented players with room to grow not so they can one day mature into a unit that’s bigger and stronger than the actual, honest-to-goodness superstars of the world, but so they can hopefully be exchanged for one. Randolph is the perfect piece of evidence that this is the team’s strategy. Right now he isn’t good enough to take Denver past teams like the Thunder or Spurs, but what he can do is become the final piece in a blockbuster trade to acquire the type of player who can.

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