30 Teams in 30 Days
30 Teams in 30 Days

30 Teams in 30 Days: Grizzlies take more strides toward new day

Memphis hopes No. 2 pick Morant can lift team back into contention

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell


Sep 8, 2019 9:34 AM ET

Can rookie Ja Morant help change the tune for the Memphis?

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of  tradesfree agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season. 

With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

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Today's team: Memphis Grizzlies

2018-19 Record: 33-49, did not qualify for the playoffs

Key additions: Ja Morant (Draft), Brandon Clarke (Draft), Jae Crowder (trade), Josh Jackson (trade), Andre Iguodala (trade), Grayson Allen (trade)

Key departures: Mike Conley, Avery Bradley, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Chandler Parsons

The lowdown: The splintering of the "Grit ’N Grind" era continued in earnest when the Grizzlies traded Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline and continued their rebuild. Memphis fell off the radar, plunging into the Draft lottery and preparing for major changes in the offseason. The centerpiece of the Grizzlies gravitated toward rookie Jaren Jackson Jr., an athletic big who had moments, enough to at least give hope for the future. Jackson showed a decent shooting touch, though not enough “grind” to confuse him with Zach Randolph. Regardless, he symbolized a new direction for the club as it began to distance itself from its former personality and trademark into something altogether different.

Conley, the lone holdover, stayed healthy enough to play 70 games and led the club in scoring (21.1 points per game) and once again fell short of an All-Star nod. He was flanked by Jonas Valanciunas, a low-post center obtained from Toronto in the Gasol trade, who was solid in his abbreviated time in Memphis (19.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg). Otherwise the Grizzlies experienced the usual shuffling of players and inconsistency that comes with such a transition. A series of journeymen, tapped-out veterans and unproven young players came and went as the Grizzlies suited up 29 players last season. By the season’s end, they were a mishmash with few assets, and ultimately came to the conclusion that new faces were necessary not only on the floor, but the bench and front office.

Relive the Grizzlies' top plays from 2018-19!

Summer summary: The long-anticipated changing of the high command finally happened when Chris Wallace was stripped of his GM duties and J.B. Bickerstaff was fired as coach. Owner Robert Pera created a shakeup designed to give the Grizzlies a new vision and leadership with hopes that the small-market team can accelerate into the next phase with a bolder and meaningful plan.

Jason Wexler is the new team president, and Zach Kleiman is the new VP of basketball operations. While the Grizzlies will operate by committee, the brainy Kleiman will function as the day-to-day basketball guy and point man for all things personnel. He’s just 30 years old yet grew steadily in the ranks, interning with two NBA teams, armed with a law degree from Duke and employed in a New York law firm before embarking on the basketball administrative side full-time.

If that hiring wasn’t unconventional enough, the Grizzlies added Taylor Jenkins as coach at age 34. Jenkins came through the ranks of the San Antonio Spurs, where he was their G League coach and then followed former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer on the bench in Atlanta and Milwaukee.

The new administration immediately went to work on the roster, seizing advantage of the club’s cap flexibility to remake the rotation, but everything began with the selection of Morant with the No. 2 overall pick.

While Morant was selected after the New Orleans Pelicans took Zion Williamson at No. 1, the Grizzlies weren’t complaining. This time a year ago, Morant wasn’t on the radar, but he became a highlight star at Murray State and soon soared up the charts. Smitten by his athleticism and playmaking ability, NBA scouts projected Morant as a potential franchise player and solid No. 2 choice behind Williamson, and the Grizzlies agreed.

Ja Morant: 'Basketball is everything to me'

He’ll immediately replace Conley, who was sent to the Utah Jazz for a package that included the No. 23 pick. The Grizzlies used that pick in a swap to get Clarke, who starred at Gonzaga and should see decent minutes at forward as a rookie. Clarke made a big splash early by earning MVP honors in the Las Vegas Summer League.

Then the Grizzlies made some minor deals with potentially big implications. The first involved taking Iguodala and a protected first-round pick as a sweetener, from the Warriors. Obviously, Iguodala isn’t in the Grizzlies’ future plans and is more valuable to them as a trade chip. The question is when he’ll be traded, and how much the Grizzlies can get for him.

Memphis also made an offer sheet for Jones that was too rich for the Timberwolves to match and got him for three years and $28 million -- a steep price for a young backup. But all it cost Memphis was money, and the Grizzlies are gambling that Jones will be worth it with more playing time.

The other risk is with Jackson, a former No. 4 pick who was a major disappointment in two seasons with the Suns. Jackson shot poorly in Phoenix and developed off-court issues that damaged his value. He’s only 22, though, and the cost was low and because the Grizzlies are in the business of player development, he became a worthwhile project. There are similar hopes for Melton, a poor shooter but brings solid defensive instincts and can be groomed into a specialist and possible rotational player.

Allen, on the other hand, is a solid shooter -- or at least he showed as much in college at Duke a few years ago. His lone season in Utah was spiced by an unexpected 40-point effort in the final regular season game. Otherwise he was a bench fixture, playing only 38 games. Again, the Grizzlies are on a search for diamonds in the rough, and perhaps Allen, who came in the Conley trade along with Crowder, will qualify.

The transformation of the Grizzlies was completed, then, by a busy summer’s end and the club will bear no resemblance to the squad that captured the affection of the city and routinely made the playoffs with a style that no longer fit today’s NBA. The new era will depend on how quickly Morant and Jackson can develop a chemistry and how wisely the Grizzlies can add to the talent core.

Coming next: New Orleans Pelicans

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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