It’s going to be harder now.
Now that Golden State let the entire league know,
through its post-championship obsession with calling out Memphisthat these Grizzlies are viewed as a serious contender moving forward.
Now that Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman is the youngest person to be named
the NBA’s executive of the year.
Now that he has been the team’s top decision maker long enough to develop
some patterns and tendenciesperhaps none more successful or pronounced than his annual trades to move up in the NBA draft.
Now that the third first-round draft pick Memphis had this year never materialized because the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t make the playoffs.
Now that the Grizzlies hit on so many draft picks in a row, they might just be due to not get one right.
But Thursday’s NBA Draft (7 pm CT, ABC/ESPN) still might be the easiest way for them to get where they want to go. They’ve aced this test before. Maybe they just do it again.
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The path from 56 wins and a second-round playoff exit to the NBA Finals – the next part of this journey with Kleiman, coach Taylor Jenkins, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and the rest of this young Memphis nucleus – is about to begin revealing itself. What the Grizzlies look like once the draft is over, and perhaps what the rest of the league looks like, will bring the rest of this offseason into focus.
They have 12 players under contract for next season, three potential draft picks, and two free agents. They could add three rookies to the roster. They could add one. They could add none. They could trade a member of the core entering the final year of a contract, like De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams or Brandon Clarke. They could do nothing.
Kleiman can’t really mess this up, in the sense that Memphis will be an intriguing team once again even if it largely stands pat the next few weeks. It’s not like he’s going to trade Morant, even though
the Memphis Zoo might.
(Seriously, couldn’t we have traded the giraffe not named after Morant?)
The Grizzlies’ preference seems to be another trade to move up in the draft order, just like they did when selecting Brandon Clarke (No. 21, 2019), Desmond Bane (No. 30, 2020), Xavier Tillman Sr. (No. 35, 2020), Ziaire Williams (No. 10, 2021) and Santi Aldama (No. 30, 2021).
ESPN’s Zach Lowe said this week on his Lowe Post podcast the Grizzlies are “calling around in every direction” trying to improve their pick. Why mess with a formula that has worked so well already? The draft is far and away the biggest reason the Grizzlies have been so far ahead of anyone’s projections since Kleiman took over the front office in 2019.
That this run of success comes immediately after the Grit and Grind era, which might have been extended longer had Memphis not bombed so many of its draft picks, makes it shine even brighter.
Initially, it was the arrival of Morant and Clarke. In 2020, it was the addition of Bane. In 2021, it was the better-than-expected first season from Williams and Bane’s exponential improvement, a development that fundamentally changed the Grizzlies’ outlook because it gave them three players they’re almost certainly not willing to part with at this point.
As likely as it is that a rookie will be the missing piece for this group in the coming season, the luxury of the situation Memphis created for itself is that the championship window that’s opening could stay open for a while given the relative age of everyone involved.
Kleiman and Jackson signed extensions last year. Jenkins did earlier this month. Morant will just as soon as Memphis is permitted to offer him a maximum rookie extension next month.
Be it short term or long term, though, it still seems likely the Grizzlies in their current form won’t be the same as the hypothetical Grizzlies team that one day climbs all the way up the NBA mountaintop.
It’s hard to envision exactly what that entails now. Thursday could offer more clarity.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @miannotto