Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Grizzlies' Two “Other Rookies” Are Poised For New Era

Posted By on Tue, Oct 1, 2019 at 1:52 PM

The Memphis Grizzlies are embarking on a new era this season with the departure of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, the final remnants of the Grit 'n Grind era. There are plenty of new faces, with a ton of attention being given to the development of the young core of second-year player Jaren Jackson Jr., and high-profile rookies Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke, who come in with high expectations.
  • Grizzlies Twitter
  • Zach Kleiman

But the front office and coaching staff also have two promising rookies, in new Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Zach Kleiman and Head Coach Taylor Jenkins.
Kleiman and company, including the day-to-day staff of Tayshaun Prince and Chris Makris, have done exceptionally well heading into their first season as a new front office. Kleiman has been shrewd and forward thinking, taking a hard stance on the Andre Iguodola trade-versus-buyout situation, and he has made some promising moves toward setting the team up for success. Kleiman has placed emphasis on the team being as competitive as possible now, while still primarily focusing on team development for years to come.

“We are focused on development; we are focused on getting better every single day; and more than anything we are focused on fostering a competitive environment” said Kleiman, at the Grizzlies Media Day, Monday, when asked how he will measure success this season.

“We are going into a season where the expectations, from our perspective, as well as the coaching staff, is let’s just continually improve and really compete. Let’s put it all out every single practice and every single game. We are playing to win and we want to install that mentality in our guys,” Kleiman added.

Kleiman has received local and national praise for his forward thinking and for maximizing the Grizzlies assets, so far. This is a vast contrast from the typical perception of the Grizzlies front office under the now demoted Chris Wallace. Kleiman appears to have a clear plan, and all of his decisions and moves seem to align with it. Kleiman also realizes that even though their reception has been positive, there is still work to be done.

“We are excited to be giving Memphis — our fans — something to be excited about but our job, my job, is to keep my head down and continue to work and put in the time to instill the values that we are trying to be about,” said Kleiman. “From the front office, to the coaching staff to the players, we are excited about the unselfish, hungry group that we have and our focus is like Taylor [Jenkins] and I have talked about is on improving everyday.”
Taylor Jenkins - NBA.COM
  • NBA.com
  • Taylor Jenkins

First-year head coach Jenkins echoed Kleiman at Media Day, saying that the team will be focused on becoming competitors, working together. and getting better every day. He said that his coaching style would focus on initiating the offense through the post early, and then moving the ball to create open opportunities from three. He also said that he would lean heavily on offensive and defense influences from his time at Atlanta and Milwaukee.

Jenkins also plans on letting Morant play without restraint during his rookie campaign. He wants the young guard to play fast and aggressive, and stated that he “would not pump the brakes on him.” Morant said that that is something that he values in his coach.

Kleiman and Jenkins are rookies in their own right, but the fact that they appear to be a unified front should be a welcome change for the organization going forward.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Grizz Add Young Steady Hand In Tyus Jones

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 1:01 PM

The Grizzlies officially added a young, yet experienced point guard in Tyus Jones. He can not only serve as a backup for rookie Ja Morant, but could also show the hand of what the organization will value this season.
Tyus Jones - NBA.COM
  • NBA.com
  • Tyus Jones

After conducting a sign-and-trade involving restricted free agent combo guard Delon Wright to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon, the Grizzlies offered Jones, a former Minnesota Timberwolves guard, an offer sheet later that night. The Timberwolves declined to match the three-year, $28-million dollar deal by the 48-hour deadline that ended Tuesday night, clearing the way for Jones to officially become a member of the Grizzlies.

Memphis used the Mid-Level Exception to sign Jones, which likely means that the Grizzlies are done as far as free agency is concerned, since they are over the salary cap without a ton of space under the luxury tax threshold. The Grizzlies have been limited in the amount that they are allowed to spend on incoming free agents for the past few years.

Jones, 23, is a fifth-year true point guard out of Duke University. He was named the 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament's Most Outstanding Player as a freshman, after leading Duke to the championship, along with soon-to-be-Grizzlies-teammate Grayson Allen. Jones was picked at number 24 overall by Minnesota in the 2015 draft, just one spot ahead of Memphis, who drafted Jarell Martin. Jones was on the Grizzlies' radar at the time, and now they have him in tow.

As a career 33-percent shooter from three-point range, Jones hasn’t shown a great ability to score from long distance. Last season was his worst percentage, at 31 percent, but he attempted fewer than two three-pointers per game, and only averages one-and-a-half three-pointers per game over his career. He is a clear pass-first, score-second point guard who averaged close to five assists last season while playing around 23 minutes a game.

The good news is that Jones set an NBA record last year with a 6.98-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is unheard of for someone who is a primary ball handler. Jones has shown that he values possessions and protects the ball at an elite level. He is also a pesky defender with a knack for making plays on the ball.

Since Jones is the first current NBA player the Zach Kleiman-led front office has signed, he possibly shows the direction the team is heading and the type of player the organization is looking to build around — high IQ playmakers who make the right decisions. While not a shooter, Jones is the type of player who can definitely set up his teammates. He has a contrasting style of play from the now-departed Delon Wright, but Jones is four years younger and has a desire to be a part of the Grizzlies rebuild. His elite-level playmaking — and the two future second-round picks that came along with the Dallas sign-and-trade — makes choosing Jones over Wright a push, at worst, in my opinion.

I look forward to seeing Jones accept his role as a backup to Morant, and I’m excited to see that he seems to embrace it. It’s been tossed around that Jones and Morant could play some together, but at only 6’2”, alongside Morant, who is only 6’3”, that could be a challenge. Jones will likely get more minutes in Memphis this season than he ever got with Minnesota. Hopefully his shooting percentages increase with more usage, in addition to his already proven playmaking and ball-protection skills.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

The Josh Jackson Project: Too Much for Memphis?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 9:28 AM

Josh Jackson - NBA.COM
  • NBA.com
  • Josh Jackson
As a reclamation project, Josh Jackson might be too much, even for Memphis.

I’m a sucker for reclamation projects. I admittedly have a soft spot for hard-heads. Whether it is a young person from the inner city who needs guidance and direction or a star athlete who needs a fan-base to embrace him, I have always been a fan of potential success stories. I am also a fan of — and cover — a team in a city that has prided itself on being a haven of reinvention for its athletes, a place for second chances. Grizzlies fans embrace troubled players and don't mind being called “The Island Of Misfit Toys.”

Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Lance Stephenson, James Johnson, and Joakim Noah all come to mind as players who came to Memphis with off-the-court issues, controversial backgrounds, negative reputations, or some sort of low expectations, in general. Once they got to Memphis, the city worked its mojo and they became fan favorites, on and off the court. Maybe it’s some mystical magic that the city possesses. It shouldn't be surprising for a place that has as much soul and culture as this one does.

Now the Grizzlies have another potential feel-good story in newly acquired Josh Jackson, who was acquired in a trade this week with the Suns. Memphis sent Kyle Korver and Jevon Carter to Phoenix for Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, and two second-round picks. Jackson was the fourth overall pick just two years ago in the 2017 NBA draft. Many figured Jackson would be a key part of the Suns future, but the team cooled on him because of his off-court antics. The Grizzlies were willing to take him, perhaps in order to get a chance to assess him on their own. Or perhaps just to use him as a piece in another deal.

Jackson’s list of blemishes is pretty long. It includes flashing gun-like hand gestures at a fan, being arrested for fleeing and resisting arrest (after trying to enter a VIP section of a music festival led to a verbal altercation), smoking marijuana around his infant daughter, skipping out on a scheduled autograph session for Suns fans, vandalizing a female student-athlete’s car after a verbal altercation while in college at Kansas, and fleeing the scene of an accident after backing into a parked car. He has also been labeled as “un-coachable” and gained a reputation for shying away from his defensive calling card to focus (unsuccessfully) on being a scoring threat.

Jackson hasn’t been accused of murder or anything like that, but he has shown a lack of self-awareness, as well as anger-management issues. That's a scary combination for someone who's only 22, with more than enough resources and money to get him into more trouble. But Jackson has an issue that separates him from previous reclamation projects in Memphis, and that's his age.

Zach Randolph is the ultimate go-to for fans and media to reference as an example of how reclamation projects in Memphis can work. A major difference between Randolph and Jackson, however, is that Randolph was 28 when the Grizzlies acquired him. Jackson is only 22. Randolph was “aging out” of most of his negative habits, while Jackson could just be entering his prime. His most recent legal woes, as well as his being traded, could serve as a wake-up call, or it could just be a sign of more trouble to come. He’s a troubled young player who would join a Grizzlies team populated with even younger — and impressionable — players.

The Grizzlies have options with Jackson. These include trading him again, buying him out, or stretching his contract. But they also have to make a decision soon about the final year of Jackson's rookie deal, which ends in 2020. His 2020-21 contract becomes fully guaranteed if the Grizzlies decide to pick up their option on him by its October 31st deadline. The hope is that Jackson will show signs of being focused on making better decisions off the court, and can contribute on the court in a way that lives up to the expectations set for him as the number-four overall pick. If he succeeds, Memphis and its fans can proudly add Jackson to their collection of successful reclamation projects.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Chandler Parsons Error Comes To An End

Posted By on Wed, Jul 3, 2019 at 3:04 PM

  • Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty Images)
  • Chandler Parsons
In their 18 years of existence in Memphis, the Memphis Grizzlies have had their fair share of eras. There was the “Young and Hungry” era that kicked off their first years in town, with players like Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, Jason Williams, and Stromile Swift. There was the “Three Year Plan” era that consisted of a rebuilding unit focused around Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowry, and Mike Conley. Then there was, of course, the “Grit 'n Grind” era that included the Mt. Grizzmore of Grizzlies lore: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen.

There was also an era that started in the summer of 2016 that included the hiring of David Fizdale as head coach, drafting Wade Baldwin, and acquiring Deyonta Davis, Rade Zagorac, Troy Daniels, and James Ennis. This era was also headlined by the signing of Chandler Parsons, who will probably go down as the worst signing in franchise history.

Now it's over. The Grizzlies have traded Parsons and his $94 million contract to the Atlanta Hawks for Miles Plumlee and Solomon Hill.

Parsons wasn’t to blame for all of the things that have happened to the team since his acquisition, but it would be hard to believe otherwise, based on fan and media opinion. Whether it be memes, jokes about how he never plays, or cheap shots taken at the condition of his knees, Parsons has been the butt of many jokes and the scapegoat for most of the Grizzlies’ perceived shortcomings. No money to sign someone? Blame it on Chandler Parsons. Zach Randolph is coming off the bench? Parsons’ fault. No good wings? Yep. Chandler Parsons.

Parsons was supposed to be the bridge from the Core Four into a new Big Three era consisting of Conley, Gasol, and Parsons.

It didn’t happen.

A healthy Chandler Parsons would have been just what the franchise needed. A tall, play-making wing who could shoot from three and had decent enough defense to hold his own. But yeah, that never happened. Parsons was damaged goods when the team signed him, and his efforts to rehab and get back into form from his knee injuries, although admirable, were cringe-worthy.

I was never among the crowd that took pleasure in Parsons suffering what amounted to a career-ending injury while trying to salvage a career. But Parsons didn’t do much to help his own case, either. He wasn’t conscious of how certain things came off to the fan-base.
Showcasing his playboy lifestyle and the spoils of his riches while the fans weren’t getting any payoff on the court was a bad look. It’s not his fault that he had Chick-O-Sticks for knees, but he did a horrible job of understanding or empathizing with the fan base. “Chancun,” anyone?
Chandler Parsons and Joakim Noah hanging at Gibson's Donuts. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Chandler Parsons and Joakim Noah hanging at Gibson's Donuts.

Some things said about Parsons were either overblown or false. Many fans assumed that because they were disgruntled with Parsons, the players in the locker room had issues with him as well. Although they wanted him to be able to produce, I’ve been told by a number of sources that Chandler was among the locker room favorites, and seen as a professional by his teammates.

In any event, finding a taker for Parsons — and his knees and his contract — is a great thing, especially considering that the Grizzlies didn’t have to send out any additional assets or take on a contract that extends beyond this season. It blows away a cloud of incompetency that still hovered over the franchise from the previous regime and gives the current front office a fair shake and a clean slate.

It’s the end of an era and the end of an error.

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Iguodala Acquisition Means Decision Time for Grizzlies

Posted By on Wed, Jul 3, 2019 at 9:55 AM

Sunday, during the first night of NBA free agency, the Memphis Grizzlies, as expected, were quiet as far as trying to sign a new player. But that didn’t mean that they weren't active. The team acquired veteran wing Andre Iguodala in a deal with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors were desperately trying to come off of Iguodala’s contract in an effort to make room to facilitate a sign-and-trade involving Kevin Durant and former Brooklyn Nets point guard, D’Angelo Russell. The Grizzlies were able to absorb Iguodala's contract into their own $25 million trade exception that was created as a result of the Mike Conley trade. As compensation, the Grizzlies also received a conditional future first-round draft pick from the Warriors. 
Andre Iguodala - NBA.COM
  • NBA.com
  • Andre Iguodala

The pick has very favorable protections for the Grizzlies — starting with a top four pick protection in 2024. If not conveyed, the pick becomes number-one overall protected in 2025 and is completely unprotected in 2016. Since Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will be 36, 34, and 34 years old, respectively, in 2024, the assumption is that the Warriors will be rebuilding by the time that the trade is available. If so, the Grizzlies more than likely would be receiving a lottery pick from them.

This could be an enviable opportunity for the Grizzlies, in the event they are able to acquire a high-draft pick from a Warriors team in transition. The Grizzlies could add a young player to their own roster or they could use the pick as a trade piece between now and then. Since the Grizzlies also own a future Utah Jazz first-round draft pick, they could package the two assets along with other players to acquire a star level talent via trade. This happens often when star players decide to part ways with their team and the team lays desirable assets on the trading block to acquire or replace a missing piece.

Iguodala should definitely be able to contribute and help this rebuilding Grizzlies team — on and off the court — if that is the direction that the team decides to go. A former NBA Finals MVP, Iguodala is a proven professional and one of the best defenders and crunch-time shot makers in the league. At 35, he is past the form that once had him labeled as one of the most athletic and versatile wings in the league, but he's still a capable contributor who can help accelerate the Grizzlies' rebuilding process. Whether Iguodala is willing to be a part of a team that's rebuilding is still a question mark.

One of the best outcomes would involve the Grizzlies being able to trade Iguadola to a contender for another future asset before the coming season’s trade deadline. In the event that the Grizzlies are able to obtain not only the pick that came from the Warriors, but a second draft pick for Iguadala, it would be a definite win for their new front office.

There has also been rising speculation about the Grizzlies simply buying out the $16 million remaining on the final season of Iguadala's current contract. This would allow Iguodala to go to any team he chooses. There are reports that if the Grizzlies did agree to a buyout agreement with Iguodala, he would join Lebron James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers. This narrative has been inflated by some in the national media. If Iguodala does not, in fact, want to be a part of a rebuilding and non-contending team in Memphis, that would be understandable. My hope is that the Grizzlies don’t allow their hand to be influenced by those media narratives. Iguodala is under contract with the Grizzlies now, and, regardless of anyone else's opinion, it's ultimately their decision about what to do with him.

The Grizzlies may not want the blow-back of negative criticism that could come if Iguodala says he wants to be traded and the team holds him “against his will.” But, whether it is mutually agreed upon that Iguodala can be a benefit to the team or not, the hope here is that the Andre Iguodala era in Memphis — however long it lasts — is one that ends on a positive note for all.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Grizz Keep Valanciunus ... and It's Cool

Posted By on Mon, Jul 1, 2019 at 7:59 AM

Jonas Valanchiunas
  • Jonas Valanchiunas
Okay, okay. I’m fine with the Grizz keeping Jonas Valanciunus.

If you had caught me as little as two weeks ago, I was dead-set against the Grizzlies attempting to resign the veteran big man. I even had a column in the chamber where I was going to rant about it, but I never submitted it. JV had just made a decision to opt-out of the $17 million that was owed to him for the final season of his previous contract and I was in favor of he and the Grizzlies parting ways, instead of coming to terms with a new deal.

I had my reasons. I had my concerns. Some of those concerns I still have, but since then, I have given the deal a closer look, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it probably was the best move for the Grizzlies to keep Valanciunus for the three-year, $45 million deal that was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski Sunday afternoon.

The Grizzlies made the best of the deal by not including a fourth season, which lines up with the first extension of Jaren Jackson Jr., whose contract will be structured to descend with Valanciunus’ deal, beginning at roughly $16 million in year one, followed by $15 million and then $14 million in its final year.

Valanciunus is a proven veteran center who showed well for the Grizzlies in his 19 games with the team last season. He averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, while becoming a focal point of the Grizzlies offense at the tail-end of the season. He’s not “young,” but he’s young enough, at 27, where he can be a nice presence alongside Jackson. His throwback bruising style allows Jackson to be more dynamic and creative, and not have to carry the load of being a rebounder and banger in the paint. JV is also good enough to help win games for the Grizzlies when Jackson is in foul trouble or Ja Morant is struggling; Valanciunus can help carry the load and get the team over the hump. This happened often enough during his limited stint last year for me to expect to see it again.

This also leads to my earlier concerns about signing him. Since JV is the type of player who is able to score inside using his size, strength, and skill, seemingly at will, could this be problematic if he starts to feel like he should be the focal point of the offense, instead of a third-option safety valve for the younger players. He is a 20 & 10 caliber player that the Grizzlies don’t particularly need to be a contributor on that level. I’m also concerned that Valanciunus might not fit with what new Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins wants to do offensively — or defensively. He’s a change of pace from any big that Jenkins has had in Atlanta or Milwaukee as an assistant coach.

Still, the bottom line is that I’m optimistic about Valanciunus' return and I'm hoping that he continues to be the inside force that he has shown himself to be — as well as the workhorse personality that captured the attention of the fanbase and local media.

There will be games where it will be great to have him and games where he will look like he’s simply in the way, but I see the good heavily outweighing the bad. Is he the type of player that you base your coaching hire around or that you keep Mike Conley around for? No, but he could be good for taking pressure off of Jackson and great for setting strong picks for Ja Morant. And, honestly, who gets tired of seeing a big, crazy dude with a beard throwing opposing players around? I’m sold.

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Friday, June 21, 2019

Conley Chapter Closes; Opens The Door For A New One

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2019 at 10:22 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

On Wednesday morning the Memphis Grizzlies' all-time leading scorer, Mike Conley Jr., was traded to the Utah Jazz for Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, the 23rd pick in Thursday night's draft, and a future conditional first-round pick. This came as no surprise. The Grizzlies had been trying to move their franchise cornerstone since before last season’s trade deadline. The Jazz were reportedly one of the teams with heavy interest in Conley but offered a rumored trade package — at the trade deadline — that was different than the one the two teams agreed upon this week. The trade was a culmination of both teams' interests, as well as what seemed to be a national campaign to get Conley to Salt Lake City. Utah beat writer (for the Athletic) Tony Jones may have written and tweeted more about Conley since February than anyone in Memphis.

The two teams seem to have gotten what they desired from the deal as the Grizzlies now have a young shooter, playmaker and scorer in the controversial and volatile Grayson Allen (he of recent Duke fame), a proven hard-nosed 3-and-D player in Jae Crowder, and one of history's best long-range spot-up shooters in Kyle Korver. Korver and Crowder come with the added bonus of being expiring contracts that can easily be moved again to acquire future assets. Korver also has a partially guaranteed contract that can allow him to easily be waived, but there could be benefits in keeping him around even at the age of 38. Korver played for new Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, and his shooting ability could be a welcome fit to his offensive system.

The Grizzlies can now draft another potential young talent to add to their future core, or use that pick to move forward or backwards in the draft. The future pick could turn into a jewel in 2022, which is also the first year that it would likely convey, if the Jazz begin to decline around that time. Another not-so-obvious plus for the Grizzlies is that they created an NBA-record $25 million trade exception that allows them to basically trade someone’s contract into this quasi-cap space.

The most significant result of the trade is that it signals the official end of an era. Memphis fans watched Mike Conley grow from a 20-year-old kid to a man in front of their eyes as he came to the franchise after eliminating the Memphis Tigers — as an Ohio State freshman — in the 2007 Elite Eight. He was met with a ton of unfair criticism being that he was the consolation prize to a draft that the Grizzlies hoped to land either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Many even hoped that Conley would go to Atlanta at number three, allowing Al Horford to fall to Memphis to pair with Pau Gasol. But the Hawks took Horford instead. Conley’s slow start led to several seasons of criticism before he would make a dramatic increase in production that led to many eating crow and having to take an about face with those early opinions. Conley would prove to be a pivotal part of the franchise's turnaround and a member of the Core Four that spearheaded the Grizzlies' most successful era. That era has now officially come to a close.

With the second pick in Thursday's draft, the Grizzlies chose Murray State superstar and self-proclaimed “Point God,” Ja Morant. The pairing of Morant and second-year player Jaren Jackson Jr. seems like an enticing one-two punch. The sky is the limit for these two and hopefully they will not only serve as a bridge to the next era but as a potential rocket ship into a stratosphere that this organization has never seen. Morant and Jackson represent two hybrid mixes of talent the league is not accustomed to. Morant is a uber-athletic point guard with elite ball-handling skills and court vision. Combine that with Jackson Jr. who has shown the ability to be an elite level defender as well as score inside and from deep range. Those two surrounded by shooters and role players could lead to a Grizzlies rebuild that bears fruit faster than expected. Something we might call a new era.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Taylor Jenkins: What We Know (And Don’t Know)

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2019 at 1:42 PM

As soon as information was released Tuesday morning by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the Memphis Grizzlies had selected Taylor Jenkins as their newest head coach, many people messaged me, looking for my opinion on the hire. I probably disappointed many of them, because I really didn’t have much to say. Also, to those who are reading this: If you are looking for an in-depth breakdown on the new Grizzlies head coach, then this might not be first place that you need to visit. I mean, I’m honored that you decided to come here, but like many, I really don’t know much about Jenkins outside of things that are easily accessible with a Google search. I also won’t pretend that I knew who he was before he arrived on the Grizzlies radar a few weeks ago as a potential candidate. So hey! Let’s take this time to learn more about Coach Jenkins, together. 
Taylor Jenkins - NBA.COM
  • NBA.com
  • Taylor Jenkins

Jenkins, who was previously the assistant coach of Eastern Conference finalists Milwaukee Bucks, comes into his new position as the second-youngest NBA head coach, at 34 years old — behind only Ryan Saunders, of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He represents a growing trend of current and recent NBA head coaches who have had previous experience in the NBA Developmental League — joining Nick Nurse, Quin Snyder, and Dave Joerger, among others. Jenkins won a G League Championship with the Austin Toros during the 2011-12 season. He also has front office experience with the San Antonio Spurs as an intern in the scouting department, as well as with draft preparation. He indirectly falls from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree by way of the offshoot Mike Budenholzer coaching branch that includes the Brooklyn Nets' impressive head coach Kenny Atkinson, and the Utah Jazz' resurgent head coach Quin Snyder.

Jenkins also has been credited as being the mind behind the Milwaukee Bucks offense, which is highly attack-minded, with an emphasis on finding open three-point shooters. The Bucks finished with the overall best record in the NBA and had the fourth-highest offensive rating in the league. They also had the highest net rating. They were fifth in pace and second in true shooting percentage. The Bucks were second in the league at 12.8 three-pointers made and attempted per game, fourth in free throws made, and third in free-throw attempts. He is seen as a player’s coach, and known for developing young players. He comes to the Grizzlies as a highly recommended and up-and-coming assistant coach by former players, fellow coaches, and media members, alike. The hope is that he can lead the Grizzlies' young core that will include Jaren Jackson Jr. and possibly Ja Morant into a new era and style.

If you were looking for the Grizzlies to hire a former head coach who comes in with an impressive coaching career, then those frustrations should have subsided much earlier in the coaching process. The Grizzlies showed their hand pretty much throughout the entire hiring process and it was clear that they were targeting someone young, innovative, and who could fit in with the culture and DNA of the ownership and management of the organization. The Grizzlies have also made it clear that they value someone who is moldable and pliable over someone who is older and tenured. The slate is clean within the organization and the hope is that since they are hiring someone in the image of the management, they will work as a more cohesive unit than what team management has displayed over the past few years. The Grizzlies have had several awkward and even embarrassing relations between ownership, management, and the coaching staff. Hopefully, Jenkins is a step in a much more positive direction.

Will Jenkins be the answer as the Grizzlies head coach? Your guess is as good as mine. He could be the next great head coach or he could be gone in a year and a half, like so many before him. He could be what the team needs to carry its young core into their ultimate destiny, or he might be the coach who hands them over to someone else when they reach their prime. First-time head coaches who were former assistant coaches in Memphis range from successful leaders of men like Lionel Hollins to the hot assistants who flamed out early, like Marc Iavaroni. There is no formula to predict what the Grizzlies have in store with Jenkins.

That said, optimism is usually a good route to take when it comes to coaching hires, and I’m willing to do so until proven otherwise.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Grizzlies Land Number 2 Draft Pick ... The Possibilities are Endless

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 10:25 AM

The Grizzlies have been known for having a series of misfortunes when it comes to the NBA draft, but on Tuesday night the (ping pong) balls finally bounced in their favor.

Whether it was a broken Mike Conley face, a Tony Allen hamstring, or a Zach Randolph suspension, the Grizzlies have had a seemingly unfair share of deflating circumstances. The franchise and the city has grown accustomed to waiting for the other shoe to fall — and having no luck except bad luck, but Tuesday night, the Grizzlies got a taste of overdue reparation when they were awarded the Number 2 overall draft pick, after being slated to pick eighth. The unfavorable odds just made the results that much more gratifying.
Ja Morant
  • Ja Morant
When I saw that the Lakers had advanced to the top four, my immediate reaction (and my engrained pessimism) led me to believe that the Grizzlies would fall to ninth, since a team that was below them in the odds had advanced. Things got wild when it was revealed that the Grizzlies had also advanced into the top four. After what seemed like the longest commercial break ever, the Grizzlies heard their verdict and it came up almost as perfect as it could be. The Grizzlies moved up in the draft for the first time since 2009, in which, ironically they also landed the second overall pick. (We won’t discuss who was taken in 2009; there’s no need Thabeet a dead horse.)

The Grizzlies now have basically the entire draft class at their disposal, because it’s pretty much a given that Duke’s Zion Williamson will go first overall to New Orleans. They can take the highly probable choice of Murray State sophomore Ja Morant or Duke scoring wing RJ Barrett. I also would not rule out the possibility of the Grizzlies taking a gamble and selecting someone like Vanderbilt freshman Darius Garland, who is rehabbing from a season-ending knee injury. Garland possesses a shooting stroke that is a fit for today’s NBA, but he would be a huge gamble since Morant has been listed as the consensus best point guard available. The Grizzlies are in the favorable position of having options if someone like Barrett or Garland is killing it in their workouts and are impressive in the combines. The have the ability to basically take whomever they want.

Another great thing is that this is not 2009 and there is no Hasheem Thabeet to tempt the Grizzlies into a bad decision. They also have an experienced front office, with guys like Rich Cho and Glen Grunwald, who can come together and help new point man Zach Kleiman with the draft choice. They also have the liberty to draft Morant and trade veteran Mike Conley — who has been rumored in several trades — for another pick or a young player on the perimeter. They could draft R.J. Barrett and take a Coby White type point guard with a later pick acquired in a Conley deal, or even a falling Darius Garland. The possibilities are numerous and come with the great reward of having the second overall pick.

The Grizzlies spent the majority of the season after the trade deadline trying to convey their draft pick and get out of the draft, and here they are now, sitting pretty with the Number 2 choice. It ain’t fair that a team that at no point of the season tanked has ended up with a chance to add another young star to their roster, but the draft is always unfair to some team, and the Grizzlies, their fans, and this city deserved some good luck for a change.

It was once suggested by former Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay that sometimes you have to make your own luck. Last night I’m sure that many were fine with the kind that just drops in your lap.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Grizzlies' Irregular Season Ends In The Most Grizzlies Way Possible

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 12:02 PM

I was able to attend the Memphis Grizzlies end of season media availability on Thursday morning. I came into the FedExForum’s practice facility with what I thought were reasonable expectations: I would hear General Manager Chris Wallace give a generic spiel about how the season was a success, in spite of all of the failures; how he was confident in Coach J.B. Bickerstaff, going forward; and how he really didn’t have a plan to announce for next season. I expected to say my final goodbyes to Mike Conley, who I assume has played his last game as a Memphis Grizzly. I even expected Bickerstaff to basically say that he wouldn’t have done anything different, if given the opportunity, when I asked him about reflecting on his first full season as a head coach. 
Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

What I didn’t expect was the chaos that ensued just hours after the media availability ended.

Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera announced, seemingly out of nowhere, that Bickerstaff would be replaced as head coach, and that the front office would be restructured. That restructuring included Wallace and Vice President of Basketball Operations John Hollinger being demoted to lesser roles, and President of Business Operations Jason Wexler being named to oversee both business and basketball operations. Assistant General Manager Zachary Kleiman was promoted to Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Pera's announcement brought mixed reactions, due mainly to the odd timing of the move in relationship to the media availability earlier that morning, and the fact that Wallace and Bickerstaff had already had exit interviews with each other and with the players. The general feeling coming from the morning press availability was that instead of finding new leadership for the franchise, the team had simply relabeled their organization and would continue doing what they've been doing for years.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • J.B. Bickerstaff

The timing of all of this was particularly odd. Wallace could have been demoted literally at anytime during the season, especially after the embarrassment and backlash of the botched Kelly Oubre trade. Bickerstaff also could have been informed that he would no longer be with the team at some point well before he and Wallace had had exit interviews with the players.

The way that the franchise went about doing this just added to the uncertainty about the team's leadership amongst the players — namely Mike Conley, who is rumored to want to move on; Jonas Valanciunas, who has the decision to opt in or out of the final year of his contract; and Jaren Jackson, who is the franchise's young and impressionable future star.

Although the timing came off as ill-prepared, and even shady, I still think that the two main things that needed to happen happened: Bickerstaff will no longer be the head coach, and the illusion of Chris Wallace being the decision-maker for this team has come to an end.

I doubt this was a decision Pera made after checking twitter for reactions from media members and fans about what happened at the morning press availability, so surely he could have done this without creating such a need for damage control — or making Wallace and Bickerstaff come off as victims. But at this point, it is what it is — just another reason for national media members to ask what’s going on in Memphis. It's a bad look.

But it’s also an opportunity for change, a possible step in a much-needed new direction. Yes, the Grizzlies have had four coaches in the past seven years, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bickerstaff just was not the answer. So here we are: A business guy and a lawyer are now in charge of the team. I also expect that someone else will be added to serve in a basketball decision-making capacity, whether it be in a position above Kleiman or in support of him, or even a coach with a general manager role. A (partially) new regime is about to set a fresh course for the Grizzlies, and I, like many, hope that the regime's shaky start is not a sign of what is to come.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

I Have a Confession to Convey

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2019 at 9:49 AM

I have a confession to convey. I’ll admit it. I’m legit afraid of what lies beyond the Grizzlies' last two games of the season and the pending 2019 NBA Draft lottery, and that's because I have real memories of previous pain and disappointment.
Otis Thorpe
  • Otis Thorpe

I was visiting a family member in the emergency room while watching the 2003 NBA draft lottery. My older brother and I were sitting in the waiting room as the draft order was unveiled, team by team. I can remember the anxiety that I carried that evening. The Grizzlies had been terrible the previous season, and here they stood with a chance to add a player from a draft that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. Admittedly, it was a slim chance, because the Grizzlies entered that year’s draft lottery owing a pick to the Detroit Pistons that was only protected if the Grizzlies landed the number-one overall pick. This was a result of a trade that the Grizzlies had made six years earlier with Detroit for the then 35-year-old, 13-year veteran, Otis Thorpe.

I don’t recall the reasoning behind the then-Vancouver Grizzlies trading for Thorpe, since they were never close to being a playoff team, but regardless of what made or didn’t make sense back in 1997, the Grizzlies had to pay their debts on lottery night 2003. The lottery went to commercial break and the number one pick literally came down to two teams — Memphis and Cleveland. The Grizzlies would either win LeBron James or they would go home with nothing but remorse. We all know how history would play out as the Cavaliers would indeed win the lottery and James would play two stints in Cleveland, including an NBA World Championship run.

The feeling I had as a fan of the still-new franchise in town was sickening, but not nearly as bad as it could have been if I had a long-term investment in the team, like I — and many others — do now. I also didn’t know that the 2003 draft class would end up being one of the best ever, with four NBA championships being won by teams led by players from that class. The protection on the Grizzlies pick that they sent out for Thorpe decreased year by year, and by the time that 2003 draft rolled around, the Grizzlies had to pay the ultimate price for the bad decisions of their previous management.

I’ll be honest. I sway back and forth between whether or not I want the Grizzlies to convey or not convey — to pick or not pick — in this year's draft. I understand all of the benefits of adding another potential star, or even a role player, beside Jaren Jackson Jr. to build for the future and show Jackson, as well as the fanbase, that the organization is headed in the right direction. I am also admittedly crippled by the fear of reliving that 2003 draft, the one that saw the future of the NBA handed over to Cleveland, and saw Detroit use their Grizzlies pick at number two for Darko Milicic.

The Pistons didn’t need Wade, Bosh, or Anthony, to win a championship and could afford to take a risk with Milicic, but the Grizzlies couldn’t afford that luxury. They desperately needed another star on that young team with Pau Gasol and Shane Battier, and they were not able to acquire one. I fear going through that again. I fear the Grizzlies being the laughing-stock of the NBA – giving the Boston Celtics, who are already a contending team, a chance to add a top-three pick to their team, while the Grizzlies remain searching for answers. I can see and hear the local and national backlash if something like that happens, and I’d rather avoid it all at all costs. Is this a gloomy, worst-case scenario way of thinking? Sure, of course it is. But is it that far-fetched to see Jeff Green as the reincarnation of Otis Thorpe?

As not only a journalist, but an actual native Memphian and day-one fan of the team, I can’t always think with a rational mind. I fear the worst. I hear, “Don’t worry about it! With this team, plus a draft pick, we will convey next season!” and that sounds good. But its nowhere close to a given. The draft lottery will be here sooner than we think, and the ping-pong balls will be randomly sorted and sifted through. The Grizzlies will have their name called on that night and I am scared to death that they might be handing over a future star to someone else — again. I watched it, lived it, and endured the ripple effect of not having a pick in the 2003 draft. And I’m not sure that I'm ready to go through that again.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Rivalries, Rebuilding, Rehab, and Rasslin’

Posted By on Tue, Apr 2, 2019 at 9:22 AM

I was a guest on Kevin Cerrito’s sports-radio show, Cerrito Live, on Sports 56 last weekend, to discuss, of all things, the Memphis Grizzlies and their Wrestling Night promotions. Every NBA team has themed nights to add some pizzazz to their home games, and Wrestling Night is the home team's exclusive version of this. It was a great event when it was initially presented back in 2015. The night featured Jerry “The King” Lawler and Ric Flair, and was capped off by the Grizzlies beating a rival Oklahoma City Thunder team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka.
901 Wrestling - MICHAEL BUTLER JR.
  • Michael Butler Jr.
  • 901 Wrestling

During my radio interview, we talked about how the Grizzlies Wrestling Night went from being an amazing annual event to one that the Grizzlies in-game operations team has run into the ground — resting on past accomplishments and probably serving up too much of a good thing. The Grizzlies had six Wrestling Nights this season, often featuring embarrassingly aging former wrestlers from the 1990s and early 2000s. Unfortunately, this gaffe by the team’s event staff mirrors some of the actions of the organization on the basketball side, as well.

I also attended a local wrestling show that Saturday night, from a promotion called 901 Wrestling. Its owner, Christopher Thompson, has been hosting outstanding shows at the Rec Room on Broad Ave recently, and I was able to bring Grizzlies beat writer Omari Sankofa from The Athletic out with me to experience and learn how deep wrestling is rooted in a certain subculture of the city. He grasped the parallels and passion of it and saw how it adds to what he has already observed about the city since moving here last fall from Detroit to cover the Grizzlies. In Memphis, we love our hoops — and we love our wrestling.

Wrestling and basketball have always played off of each other well in Memphis, due to the fact that both sports have a element of good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, and intense rivalries with individuals that you may hate when they are on the court or in the ring but still find entertaining. This is what made great Grizzlies rivalries against the Thunder and Clippers so good, because we savored the classic battles between Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley against the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant.

After the Grizzlies latest 113-96 loss to the Clippers on Sunday night, it sunk in for me just how much the once-entertaining Clippers rivalry is now dead. Both teams have new rosters and new directions and Conley is the lone member from either side's glory days. Something else that stood out was how the Clippers were able to lose Paul, Griffin, and Jordan over the last year and have still managed to find themselves in the Western Conference playoffs, even after dealing Tobias Harris, their star player from earlier this season. The Grizzlies' former rival embraced their rebuild, took the bumps, and added respectable but non-star free agents, while keeping a proven head coach to lead the retooled roster back to the playoffs. In 2017, Doc Rivers was demoted from his position as director of basketball operations to focus on coaching, and he got his team back in the playoffs ahead of schedule.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Grizzlies currently sit tied for the sixth-worst record in the NBA. They have a potential superstar-level talent in Jaren Jackson Jr. but a ton of uncertainty in the front office going forward. There is no obvious sense of direction, outside of what now looks to be failed attempt to convey the draft pick owed to Boston. Jonas Valanciunas, who has had a monster campaign since being traded to the Grizzlies for Marc Gasol, is now out for the season after an ankle injury that he suffered against the Clippers. This adds to a long list of recent injuries, including Jackson, Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Avery Bradley, CJ Miles, and likely Joakim Noah as players that are out for the season.

The Grizzlies are heading into what will truly be a rebuilding offseason for the franchise, as Mike Conley is also likely to be traded as early as draft night, this summer. It comes with a ton of uncertainty because of the organization's frustratingly unclear front-office structure, which includes long-time general manager (and scapegoat) Chris Wallace and whoever else seems to be pulling strings and making moves at any time. Can the fans trust an organization that has botched so many major decisions? There is no quick remedy to get the Grizzlies back to being a Western Conference competitor, but just as with their Wrestling Nights, I hope that the team's leadership realizes that just doing more of the same thing probably isn't going to work.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Conley Regains Griz Scoring Record: How Long Will He Stay?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 2:39 PM

Mike Conley’s time in Memphis is possibly coming to an end. If it does, he'll go out as the team’s all-time leading scorer, which is a fitting accomplishment.

Although the Grizzlies fell short Wednesday night in a pseudo-road game against the Golden State Warriors in a FedExForum filled with faux-Warrior fans, Conley was able to regain the franchise’s all-time scoring record with a corner three-pointer in the first quarter.

Conley, who also leads the franchise in assists, steals, three-point field goals, and games played, joined LeBron James and Reggie Miller as the only players ever to lead in all those categories for their respective franchises.

Conley was a late-bloomer scoring-wise over his career, after struggles to be productive early. As a young player, he was often the butt of fan and media jokes, but Conley went from being the third to forth option on teams that had some combination of Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol to the team’s number-one option in recent years. His longevity, combined with his production, has now placed him among the franchise’s all-time greats.

But now, Conley has a cloud of uncertainty floating over his head, as he is constantly the subject of trade rumors — even as early as NBA Draft day — after not being moved at this year's trade deadline. There are those who believe the Grizzlies will, in fact, move Conley either around the draft or at some point before next season’s trade deadline, the thought being that another team looking to re-tool going into next season might be willing to give more for Conley than the offers that were presented to the Grizzlies this season.

The Lakers, Jazz, Pistons, Pacers, and Magic seem to be the most likely candidates, based on previous interest in Conley, as well as speculative looks into their roster make-up, needs, and draft placement. Conley’s recent scoring production has made him look like a much more desirable player. There are those who say that Conley might even be “auditioning” or showcasing his abilities to a league-wide audience because he might not be opposed to the possibility of leaving Memphis via trade.

There are two ways of looking at his situation. There's the obvious benefit of having Conley back next season, especially if the Grizzlies are not able to convey the draft pick they owe to Boston. A team that consists of Conley, Jackson, Anderson, Brooks, and some combination of the players acquired via trade this season could not only be good enough to convey the pick, but possibly be good enough that the pick lands high enough that it might not sting so much to lose it.

There is also the thinking that not only should Conley not have to be forced to be a part of a team that is clearly rebuilding, but that the Grizzlies shouldn't try to rebuild on the fly, and keep Conley in the process. This kind of clean break would force the team — and the fans — to embrace life after Grit 'n Grind, of which Conley is now the lone survivor.

Regardless of what the Grizzlies end up doing with Conley between now and the near future, it is great to see him cement his place in team history. His hard work, dedication, and loyalty to the franchise, his teammates, and the city has placed him where he belongs — on top.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Can It Be That It Was All So Simple Then?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 9:22 AM

The Memphis Grizzlies have found themselves in a strange place — where their wins and loses are suffering from an identity crisis.

Times were so much simpler this time last season for the Grizzlies. It was cut and dried, to say the least. A win equaled “bad.” A loss equaled “good.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. - JOE MURPHY/NBAE
  • Joe Murphy/NBAE
  • Jaren Jackson Jr.

That’s how things are when you are clearly in the middle of a dead-end season, facing one of the best draft classes in recent years. You want to position yourself to get the best draft pick possible. You knew you had Mike Conley and Marc Gasol coming back, in addition to a potential top-five draft pick, so it made perfect sense to place yourself in a position to umm … well, increase your odds of winning as few games as possible.

The formula worked as planned. Well, sort of. The Grizzlies ended up landing the fourth overall draft pick, which turned out to be Jaren Jackson Jr. Pretty good, so far right? They added an elite-level, potential two-way star player to the combo of Conley and Gasol.

But the second half of the Grizzlies plan is where things began to falter. The assumption was that the team would be good enough this year to possibly contend for a playoff spot and, if not, to be able to convey the team's first-round draft pick that is owed to Boston. This has been explained ad nauseam, but here is the condensed version.

The Grizzlies owe Boston a draft pick. If it's in the top eight picks this year, the Grizzlies keep it. If it’s in the top six next year, they keep it. The year after that, it goes to Boston no matter what, if it hasn't already been conveyed to them.

Got it? Good.

But yeah, back to the whole plan not really going according to plan thing.

It didn’t work. The wheels fell off of the Grizzlies season very early, and all hopes of having a playoff team were deflated. After Gasol was traded, General Manager Chris Wallace announced that the team still planned on attempting to convey its draft pick to Boston, and ever since, the Grizzlies have found themselves in an odd place, where wins and loses are becoming one and the same.

They aren’t bad enough to catch the five teams below them in the reverse standings, and they can’t string enough wins together to make it seem like they will finish 9th or better — or worse — or however it works. It's confusing.

Injuries to Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jeran Jackson Jr. have also put a damper on things; the team can’t evaluate how their young, potential core players will perform with the veterans acquired in the Gasol trade. With all of the accolades that Jonas Valanciunas has received, it’s truly unfortunate that we won’t get to see him play with Jackson this season.

Things were so much simpler last year, when all you wanted the Grizzlies to do was lose — just lose as many games as possible. Simple. That’s all changed this year. The team sits in a peculiar place — where their highs aren’t high enough and their lows aren’t low enough. For every three-game winning streak against playoff teams, there are losses to Atlanta and Washington. Both of the team's options lack appeal.

It's makes you yearn for the good old days, when tanking made everything so simple.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Valanciunas Catches Grizz Fans On The Rebound

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 10:18 AM

There is a newly acquired seven-foot, board bangin’, paint stompin’, reboundin’ machine named Jonas Valanciunas who has quickly captured the hearts of Grizzlies fans. Is it true love, or is the fanbase just on the rebound during the team's rebuild?
Jonas Valanciunas
  • Jonas Valanciunas

When Pau Gasol was traded from the Grizzlies to the Lakers back in 2008, many lambasted the trade. The Grizzlies were criticized for, in essence, trading away their franchise player, who was still in his prime, for what amounted to expiring contracts and future assets, including Pau's younger brother, Marc. Although Pau was criticized for being too passive to be the best player on a good team, like the Grizzlies needed him to be, the overwhelming consensus was that he was one of the most skilled big men in the entire NBA and would help the Lakers tremendously — as he did.

Except for General Manager Chris Wallace, who insisted that the younger Gasol was a hidden gem, not many anticipated Marc Gasol panning out like he did. When he finally made his debut with the team, after coming over to the United States from playing professionally in Spain, he instantly became a fan favorite. He was big, burly, and wild; he fought in the paint and backed down from no one. He was the Anti-Pau, and the antidote that the team and fanbase needed to get over their traded star. For every memory of Pau being balled up on the floor after getting overpowered in the paint or checking for blood, the fans were gifted with Marc roaring with energy as he finished in the paint through contact.

He was a rebound for the broken hearted — a symbol of hope for a franchise in transition. He was the bigger, stronger, tougher, Memphis-molded version of his older brother, and just what the city needed at the time.

Similarly, Valanciunas has been just what Grizzlies fans have needed after Marc Gasol's departure. During a period where wins and losses feel the about the same as far as draft positioning is concerned, watching JV thrive on the court has been a thrill. He’s averaged 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in the seven games he’s played for the team, and has reminded many of the younger more paint-oriented version of what Marc was. The idea of him playing next to now-injured Jaren Jackson Jr. has left many fantasizing that Valanciunas' physical style will be the perfect complement to Jackson’s youth and diverse talents, and cover his weaknesses — a yin to Jackson’s yang, an alternate reality Z-Bo to Marc, or the other way around — whatever makes sense to you.

Still, it’s not a great idea for fans to get too attached to their new-found love, since Valanciunas has a player-option on the $17 million owed to him for next season. He might opt in for the final year with Grizzlies, making him a free agent in 2020, or sign an extension with the Grizzlies, or opt out of his final year and become a free agent in 2019. No one knows, at this point.

There is also the possibility that he opts in and is then traded to another team.

That said, Valanciunas has been a pleasant surprise, especially to those who didn’t know that the team was acquiring one of the league's top young centers. He’s not Marc Gasol and might not even be here long enough to build a legacy, but he’s been perfect in the moment.

It’s perfectly fine to be excited about the potential that fans see in Valanciunas on the court and even in the locker room. But, be careful Grizz fans. It's okay to fall in love with a rebound, just don’t get too enamored by someone who may break your heart.

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