MikeCheck: Setting ‘GrindTable’ for summer progress as Grizzlies build on breakthrough ’21 run
MEMPHIS – A season of enormous progress for the Grizzlies now shifts to another step in the offseason process to build one of the NBA’s youngest teams into a perennial contender.
The Grizzlies wrapped up their first winning season and playoff appearance in four years after winning the league’s Play-In Tournament to set up their first-round matchup against Utah. After shocking the NBA’s top-seeded squad on the road in Game 1, the Grizzlies fell 4-1 in a hard-fought series against the team with the best record in the league.
On the heels of a 38-34 record to finish well ahead of preseason projections for the second straight year, the Grizzlies enter the summer buoyed by breakthroughs from budding superstar point guard Ja Morant and a roster of players coming off career seasons.
“That’s what the excitement is and that’s what that growth is,” coach Taylor Jenkins said of the momentum the franchise carries into the summer. “Hopefully, we come back after investing a lot in this offseason that’s ahead of us, and take another step next year.”
Our final Grind City Media ‘GrindTable’ of the season explores how far the Grizzlies have come and the next steps ahead, as Grizzlies TV and radio broadcasters Pete Pranica, Eric Hasseltine and Jessica Benson join me to preview offseason storylines.
The biggest lesson the Grizzlies should take from their playoff series loss to the Jazz is...?
Taylor Jenkins always talks about “game-plan discipline” and that’s something that the Grizzlies had for significant stretches of the series. But when it lapsed, Utah made them pay. The Grizzlies will also learn how hard you have to play and for how long in the playoffs. You have to minimize empty possessions and offensive lulls. Finally, they should take away that they can play with elite teams, even on the road.
The future is now. The Grizzlies fast-tracked their return to the playoffs, and while the team never lacked a competitive swagger in their series loss to the Jazz, there was naturally an aura of “it’s just really great to be here!” Now, it’s about taking this solid foundation and figuring out how to go from Play-In Tournament contender, to legit Western Conference contender.
It’s that great teams find ways to improve every game, especially in the playoffs. Little mistakes can cost you in the postseason, especially against disciplined teams. But the Grizzlies should also have learned that they are a really good team.
Just how definitive that line is separating playoff-caliber teams from ones that are truly contenders for an NBA title. At the start of this season, Zach Kleiman, Grizzlies vice president for basketball operations, said that the front office is building this franchise and are guided by “North Star” aspirations to compete for championships. These NxTGeN Grizzlies got a significant taste of how far they have to go to get to Utah’s status as the top team in the West. But they also delivered plenty of encouraging evidence of how far they’ve come so fast.
To develop into a contender in the West, the Grizzlies priority this offseason should be...?
The Grizzlies made the playoffs as the 3rd-youngest team by average age and the youngest playoff team in a decade. There’s value to youth, but there’s also value to veteran leadership. I’d like to see the Grizzlies tweak the roster to get more perimeter shooting and a veteran or two that can be an on-floor and locker room leader.
The Grizzlies need another scorer. Bonus points if he comes in the form of a big wing veteran with playoff experience and wisdom to dish out to the young Grizzlies core.
It’s easy to say add more shooting, but the roster has shooters. Getting more length and athleticism would certainly help. But the key to a lot will be deciding what happens with forward Justise Winslow’s contract, with the Grizzlies holding a team option for next season.
The “take-the-next-step” blueprint is already there. The Grizzlies were in a similar situation almost a dozen years ago, when Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were the young foundational pieces proving they had tremendous upside. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have also done just that. But that previous iteration of the Grizzlies then struck deals to bring in mid-career vets in Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to thrust that squad forward in every way. This version of the Grizz could use a productive, mid-career vet with an edge and playoff experience.
One thing you’ll never forget about this uniquely memorable Grizzlies season is...?
The biggest moment of the season was the play-in win at Golden State. Going back to that arena after falling short in the season finale and then managing to get a win against a red-hot Steph Curry and the Warriors to make the playoffs marks a turning point for the current iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies. Their ability to stare down a quality opponent on the road in an elimination game was remarkable and hopefully a harbinger for things to come.
There are so many fun/crazy memories: trudging to games through the great blizzard of 2021, broadcasting an away game from FedExForum while the Memphis Tigers were playing on the court in front of us, the return of growl towels and Whoop That Trick. But there’s one moment that will always stand out above the rest. The final week of the regular season I had to take an emergency trip to the West Coast to be with my fiancé as his father entered hospice. My bosses and colleagues 100% supported me packing up and leaving even though it meant I’d miss four games in five nights. When I returned and entered our radio broadcast suite for the first time, I was immediately enveloped in a giant group hug from my coworkers. In that moment, I realized I didn’t just gain a new job last summer, I gained new family.
For me, it’s the time we remotely called a road Grizzlies game while the Memphis Tigers played inside FedExForum at the same time. On the court, as for the team, the way the Grizz played on the road was really impressive. They had some really impressive wins against good teams.
The forever bonds our Grizzlies radio and television broadcast teams established and leaned on throughout a very tough and emotional season. We called the games in our special, unique way for our amazing fans when the lights, cameras and microphones flipped on each game night. But the stories, laughs, hugs, tears, food, fellowship and love that persisted in our Suite 216 radio booth and the TV broadcast area were something to behold. We all pulled together to make the very best of some very challenging times for all of us.
(Pranica anchors Bally Sports Southeast’s Grizzlies TV coverage. Hasseltine and Benson are play-by-play analysts and game night hosts on 92.9 FM ESPN Radio, the Grizzlies radio flagship station)
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