30 Teams in 30 Days | 2022

30 Teams in 30 Days: Grizzlies look to build on breakthrough season

Memphis is meticulously laying financial groundwork to maintain its talented young core after an impressive 2021-22 campaign.

Youth hasn’t prevented Ja Morant and the Grizzlies from blossoming into one of the NBA’s best teams.

Memphis Grizzlies

2021-22 record: 56-26

Key additions: Danny Green (trade), Jake LaRavia, David Roddy (draft).

Key subtractions: De’Anthony Melton (trade), Kyle Anderson (free agency).

Last season: Eventually, if all goes according to the blueprint, a team built primarily through the draft finally matures and achieves the breakthrough season. Such was the case with the 2021-22 Grizzlies. Winners of 56 games, second only to the Suns, the Grizz were thrilling to watch and hell to play against, as evidenced by their social media buzz and bottom line results. The centerpiece was Ja Morant, runaway winner of the league’s Kia Most Improved Player award, a first-time All-Star and suddenly one of the league’s best point guards. But he had company: Desmond Bane became a prolific 3-point shooter, Jaren Jackson Jr. an ace rim protector, Brandon Clarke was terrific in the playoffs and Ziaire Williams improved rapidly.

Summer summary: When you’ve spent the last few years drafting wisely and nurturing your young talent, the next step is protecting the assets for the long haul. And so the Grizzlies right now are all about writing checks. The previous summer they gave a fat one to Jackson. This time, to Morant. Next summer it’ll be Dillon Brooks, Clarke and Bane at the negotiating table.

Robert Pera, the team owner and a Goliath in the tech world, is worth multiple billions, and if all goes well with the Grizzlies, he’ll be lighter in the wallet in the near few years. That’s not such a bad thing; it simply means the players Memphis collected are worth it. It also means Zach Kleiman, the general manager, is proving himself as one of the best in the business at recognizing talent, establishing a development system and making the right moves when necessary.

Therefore, the small-market team with big plans will soon have a big payroll. That’s when Pera must decide if he’s willing to pay the luxury tax, and again, given his own wealth and desire to build a title contender, that doesn’t seem too big of an ask.

But back to the larger issue: Morant signed a five-year, $193 million max extension, because why not? Memphis is fortunate to have a guard who can take over games, play above the rim and also represent the city with charm and grace. He’s exactly what any franchise craves: a player who’s a winner and also an entertainer.

Eventually, however, the Grizzlies must draw the line because you can’t pay everyone. Maybe that person is Brooks, who becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Williams is being groomed for increased minutes just in case. We’ll see. In the meantime, the Grizzlies hope to go about the business of collecting as much talent as possible and making those decisions even harder.

They chose to let Anderson walk in free agency rather than extend him. He was valued for his smarts and fundamentals but, again, you can’t pay everyone. Besides, the Grizzlies are a deep team and replacing Anderson won’t be impossible.

Same for Melton, who was due to get paid soon. By sending him to the Sixers for Green and the draft rights to Roddy, the Grizzlies bought themselves some financial time. Green might not be ready for this season, if he plays at all following knee surgery, and he’s off the books next summer. Meanwhile, Roddy, the 23rd pick, will be on a rookie contract for a few years.

He was the Grizzlies’ second first-round pick. They took LaRavia earlier in a draft swap with the Timberwolves (who took Walker Kessler, later traded to Utah in the Rudy Gobert deal). Both incoming rookies will likely spend time learning before they get any significant floor burn.

So the Grizzlies, very deftly, are not only building a contender, but taking the necessary steps to pay their best players down the line. This front office has a plan in place, and the execution of such plan is now advancing into the next stage.

Other than hoping Jackson recovers properly from the stress fracture in his foot — he’ll likely be out until January — all is well with the Grizzlies, and this summer, another productive one in Memphis, was proof of that.

Up next: Houston Rockets | Previously: Oklahoma City Thunder

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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