LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 7: The Memphis Grizzlies introduce Marcus Smart during a press conference on July 7, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 7: The Memphis Grizzlies introduce Marcus Smart during a press conference on July 7, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

MikeCheck: Grizzlies confident Smart, Rose enter camp ready to provide answers for lingering questions

There likely won’t be a question asked during the Grizzlies’ media day Monday that coach Taylor Jenkins hasn’t already pondered throughout the franchise’s deeply introspective offseason.

So expect many of the inquires posed to Jenkins, top basketball executive Zach Kleiman and players throughout the roster to be met with some variation of essentially the same response.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 15: Head coach Taylor Jenkins of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during the second quarter of the game against the Miami Heat at Miami-Dade Arena on March 15, 2023 in Miami, Florida.

“Change is inevitable,” Jenkins surmised of the primary theme he’ll carry into his fifth season as coach of the retooled Grizzlies. “You look where you are as a franchise and try to figure out how you take that next step. This is just the next evolution and iteration of Grizzlies basketball.”

A transitional offseason of key roster tweaks, injury recover, coaching staff additions and the most lucrative contract in team history delivers the Grizzlies to the doorstep of training camp. On the heels of consecutive 50-win seasons and back-to-back finishes with the second-best record in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies open camp practices on Tuesday.

But the mood and mindset in Memphis will be slightly different from the recent past.

For the first time since president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman took over the front office and Jenkins arrived as coach, the Grizzlies are coming off a season where they admittedly fell short of some foundational values and standards.

After a season hammered by significant injury absences and haunted by off-court issues and “self-created” distractions, the Grizzlies vowed to recommit to player development. Another priority was to mature one of the NBA’s youngest rosters with the addition of proven veterans.

The Grizzlies addressed both missions in hopes of enduring the 25-game suspension superstar point guard Ja Morant will serve for a violation of the NBA’s conduct policy.

Two players brought in to primarily fill that void will be formally introduced in Memphis for the first time as Grizzlies when guards Marcus Smart and Derrick Rose meet with the media. Both have already made significant impressions on new teammates, coaches and executives during visits over the summer and since settling in for voluntary workouts.

In Smart, the Grizzlies acquired in a June trade the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner and nine-year veteran who helped guide the Celtics to the NBA Finals two seasons ago.

Rose was the NBA’s youngest-ever MVP in 2010, and he returns as a hoops icon who sparked the Memphis Tigers to the NCAA Tournament title game in 2008. He was then drafted No. 1 overall by the Chicago Bulls after his freshman season.

Between those two, the Grizzlies are gaining experienced leaders to provide reinforcements as playmakers amid Morant’s absence, as well as reassuring voices in the locker room.

Grizzlies’ fans are eager to see the newest additions in action. That’s also the case for returning players, many of whom grew up watching Rose and Smart establish themselves in the NBA.

“I’m thrilled . . . just going around town when I’m going out to eat or shopping with my family, people are always asking me, ‘What do you think about D-Rose? Have you talked to him?’” Grizzlies fourth-year guard Desmond Bane said. “Either that, or it’s like, ‘Marcus this, Marcus that.’ It’s all cool. It’s not just us as players, but the whole city is excited as well.”

Bane laughed as he told the story during a recent Grizzlies’ corporate event. But the franchise’s leadership took efforts seriously this offseason to surround the core group of Bane, Morant and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. with a cast that could elevate the team’s quest to contend in the West.

Memphis made the playoffs each of the past three seasons. But the Grizzlies were ousted the last two trips by a Golden State team that won the championship two years ago and a Lakers squad that made it to the Western Conference finals last season.

With Bane signing a $207 million contract extension this summer that was the richest in team history – and Morant and Jackson already secured on near-max deals – the Grizzlies are leaning into their championship window.

Hence, inevitable change around them.

“It’s about depending on that transparency and acknowledging where you are and what you need to do to help push the group to where you want to get to,” Kleiman said as the Grizzlies approached camp. “I was the first to say coming out of this past season that we were probably a little younger than we needed to be. And we wanted to elevate this locker room to surround guys like Des with guys who have been to the Finals. Having that experience in our locker room and that competitive spirit at an incredibly high level – I really like the pieces.”

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - APRIL 16: Jaren Jackson Jr. #13 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game One of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at FedExForum on April 16, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee.

When Smart was acquired over the summer, Jackson said the Grizzlies should boast the NBA’s most lethal with the past two Defensive Player of the Year award winners on the same team.

And when Rose was added later in the summer during free agency, several Grizzlies players talked about the invaluable lessons the team will gain on and off the court. Rose is no longer the explosive All-NBA player of his prime, but the 15-year veteran still has plenty to offer.

“I haven’t really had true veterans in the locker room up until this point,” Bane said. “But having a guy like Marcus, who has been to the Finals. And Derrick Rose has been an MVP in this league and has been to a bunch of places. He’s kind of had a chance to reshape himself, so I’m looking forward to picking his brain and seeing what we can accomplish this year.”

The Grizzlies have been in striking distance of teams that have broken through in the West. Last season, the eventual champion Nuggets suffered arguably their worst loss of the season in Memphis. They also needed until the final week of the regular season to hold off the Grizzlies for the best record and No. 1 playoff seed.

Each of the past two seasons, injuries late in the year or in the playoffs also hindered the Grizzlies chances of advancing deeper into the postseason. Camp this season will commence with Morant unavailable for the first two months of games and with forward Brandon Clarke likely to miss the first half of the season to continue recovery from Achilles surgery in March.

MEMPHIS, TN - FEBRUARY 27: Steven Adams #4 of the Memphis Grizzlies participates in an all access team practice on February 27, 2023 at FedExForum in Memphis,

There are also questions surrounding the progress and availability of starting center Steven Adams, who missed the second half of last season with a knee injury. That is also the case with third-year swingman Ziaire Williams, a former No. 10 pick, who missed most of last season.

Possible answers to some of those questions will come as soon as Monday’s media day. After that, the Grizzlies will begin to sort through their options with three consecutive days of camp practices ahead of Saturday’s open workout on ‘Fan Day’ at FedExForum.

The Grizzlies open their five-game preseason slate at home Sunday against the Pacers in preparation for the Oct. 25 home and regular-season opener against the Pelicans.

This team will remain a work in progress for a while until everyone settles into the mix. But the encouraging matchmaking to get the roster to this point has been months in the making.

MEMPHIS, TN - SEPTEMBER 17: Zach Kleiman of the Memphis Grizzlies poses for a portrait on September 17, 2022 at FedExForum practice facility in Memphis, Tennessee.

“It has to play itself out – there’s a reason why you have to go out and earn it,” Kleiman said. “It’s not going to be given to us. There’s a lot of enthusiasm about the makeup of this group, and I have a lot of belief in what we’re going to be able to do with this group.”

Ahead of media day, Jenkins echoed that sentiment. 

“They’re excited about what’s going to be built here in Memphis,” Jenkins said of Smart and Rose as they prepare for their first official practices with the Grizzlies. “These guys are ready to rock with that. The guys we’re welcoming to our group are only going to make things better for the Memphis Grizzlies.”

For Smart, Rose and the Grizzlies, all intentions and expectations are legit.

Time now to see how those promising pieces fit.