MikeCheck: Grizzlies stand pat at trade deadline, set sights on Jackson’s return and postseason push
MEMPHIS – Having bypassed the NBA trade deadline with their roster intact, the Grizzlies enter the season’s stretch run eyeing a playoff spot and envisioning Jaren Jackson Jr. contributing to that pursuit in the coming weeks.
“Excited to keep working through the second half of the season and winning as many games as we can,” said Zach Kleiman, Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations. “Jaren has made significant strides, and we can’t wait to have him back on the court with us.”
Speaking with the media Friday in the aftermath of Thursday’s trade deadline, Kleiman addressed the team’s decision to stand pat with the current roster, the latest with Jackson’s recovery from knee surgery and the team’s overall progress amid a difficult closing schedule.
The Grizzlies (21-20) carry a three-game winning streak into Friday’s matchup against the Utah Jazz in the first of two games the teams will play on consecutive nights in Salt Lake City. Only Jackson has remained on the Grizzlies’ injury report in recent games as Memphis pushes forward as healthy as the team has been all season.
The biggest development from Kleiman’s media session on Friday was his projection that Jackson is on course to make his season debut by the end of April. The fourth overall pick from the 2018 NBA Draft, Jackson has been sidelined since undergoing knee meniscus surgery in August after suffering the injury when league play resumed last season in the Orlando bubble.
Jackson has traveled with the team on road trips and progressed through varying stages of rehab and conditioning recovery the past two months. The Grizzlies had publicly remained vague on sharing a specific timeframe for when Jackson might be available, but have consistently prioritized a bigger-picture view of his health and long-term recovery.
On Friday, Kleiman shed a little more light on Jackson’s status and detailed the delicate nature of the procedure to repair instead of outright replace the meniscus in Jackson’s knee. At 21 years old in his third NBA season, Jackson is regarded as one of the league’s most dynamic young forwards because of his versatility as an elite-level defender and prolific 3-point shooter.
I’m excited for our guys to win as many games as possible this season. And I can say with awesome confidence that I can’t wait to have (Jackson) back next month.
“There’s nothing abnormal about the timeline Jaren has been on,” Kleiman said. “What we did with Jaren, with his long-term health in mind, was to repair his meniscus.”
Jackson averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range in 57 games last season. He became the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 2.5 made threes and block at least one shot per game.
The prospect of adding Jackson to the mix alongside Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas should provide a significant boost to a Grizzlies team that already ranks atop or among the NBA’s leaders in points in the paint, assists, second-chance points, steals and scoring off turnovers. The combination of the team’s continued development this season and Jackson’s anticipated return left the Grizzlies’ front office and coaching staffs encouraged to maintain the course as Thursday’s trade deadline passed without Memphis making a move.
“Our depth this year is going to be our strength,” Kleiman said as he named several players on the roster who are having career seasons in one category or another. “I think in this very strange, COVID-impacted season, depth is going to continue to be our strength. (Coach) Taylor (Jenkins) and his staff have done an excellent job with that.”
The Grizzlies endured challenges through the season that’s included 155 total games missed to roster player injuries and a two-week hiatus for health and safety protocols. Memphis has used 10 starting lineups and has had nearly a dozen different leading scorers over the course of a schedule that will close with 40 games in the final 68 days of the regular season.
But there is also plenty of reason for hope and optimism. For the second straight season, the Grizzlies are on course to exceed preseason projections for their win total and they currently sit ninth in the Western Conference standings – just 3 ½ games behind the fifth-place Nuggets.
The NBA is transitioning to a 10-team postseason for each conference, with the No. 7-10 seeds competing in a “play-in” tournament format to determine the final eight-team playoff field. After seeing the Grizzlies make the “play-in” tournament last season in the bubble before losing in the single-game eliminator to the Blazers, Kleiman said the goal is to build on that experience this season and continue to develop by playing in high-stakes games the rest of the way.
“We’re going to be playing in basketball games that matter,” Kleiman said. “I’m excited for our guys to win as many games as possible this season. And I can say with awesome confidence that I can’t wait to have (Jackson) back next month.”
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