Young Grizzlies still cocky, hungrier after semifinals loss
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — All-Star point guard Ja Morant borrowed a professional camera for photos of his teammates, even turning the lens on reporters covering the Memphis Grizzlies’ media day Monday.
Ziaire Williams, going into his second NBA season, used a disposable camera from the podium and asked everyone to smile.
Safe to say the young Memphis Grizzlies remain just as confident, hungry and yes, ready for the brighter lights that come with posting the NBA’s second-best record followed by a run to the Western Conference semifinals.
That earned the Grizzlies many more national TV games, including the coveted Christmas night slot against the defending champs, the Golden State Warriors.
“I’m extremely proud of our group on how serious, we took this offseason and how serious each individual took on themselves to get better, and it’ll help us be a better team, as well as long as everybody improve,” said Morant, the All-Star and NBA’s Most Improved Player last season.
Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman made clear after Golden State ended Memphis’ season in six games — the last three without an injured Morant — that money wouldn’t stop him from keeping his core together. Gone are Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, replaced by veteran Danny Green and a trio of draft picks.
Kleiman also signed Morant to a five-year, supermax deal after the point guard’s third season, along with a deal for veteran guard Tyus Jones. Kleiman said they like to build through the draft and are confident in the players they’ve brought in.
“We’re excited about what we did this offseason,” Kleiman said.
The Grizzlies will start the season without Jaren Jackson Jr. Kleiman cleared up speculation on when Jackson suffered the stress fracture in his right foot Monday, noting Jackson was training somewhere else and immediately alerted team officials about the injury.
Memphis projected June 30 that Jackson would return within four to six months from surgery. Kleiman said the original timeframe has not changed for Jackson’s return. Jackson told reporters he wouldn’t be back for opening night Oct. 19 against the New York Knicks.
“You’ll like it,” Jackson said of his return.
The Grizzlies have a trio going into contract years in center Steven Adams, Dillon Brooks and forward Brandon Clarke. Kleiman said earlier this year that money wouldn’t be an issue keeping the Memphis’ core together.
Adams joked he didn’t even know if he’d be starting when asked about the qualities he likes in a power forward playing beside him. Brooks wants to be available after being limited to 32 games last season by injuries. Clarke said he was afraid of saying the wrong thing, but made clear he wants to stay in Memphis.
“We view them as potential long-term pieces of this group, and we’ll see how this plays out,” Kleiman said.
The Grizzlies had three players receive votes for the NBA’s Most Improved Player won by Morant with Desmond Bane fifth and Jackson 10th.
Williams, who started 31 of 62 games played as a rookie, is a candidate with coaches telling him he’ll be on the ball more. Guard-forward John Konchar is another option after his own three-year extension this offseason, and 6-foot-11 Santi Aldama is another.
GRIZZLIES GET YOUNGER
Memphis has six rookies in training camp led by a quartet of draft picks. That includes forward Jake LaRavia out of Wake Forest, David Roddy from Colorado State and guard Kennedy Chandler, a Memphis native who played in college at Tennessee.
The Grizzlies also have an intriguing prospect in Kenneth Lofton Jr., a 6-8, 275-pound forward out of Louisiana Tech who impressed during summer league.
The Grizzlies have had a bunch of veterans who never made it to Memphis in previous years, including Andre Iguodala who never dressed for them before being traded to Miami in February 2020.
Green, acquired draft night in a trade, will be sticking around. Green says some teams didn’t think he could be back at any point this season coming off a knee injury in mid-May. He said both he and Memphis think he can be back when it matters most and also help these young Grizzlies with his experience.