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Letting kids be kids in Memphis

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Be careful the words you say...children will listen.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

My entire life is spent working with kids. From being a teacher and football coach during the day to my most important job title - Dad (or Pirate Daddy during Halloween) - the vast majority of my days are spent interacting with, and trying to impart wisdom on, the youth. I have two daughters at home, over 70 sons in our football program, and have taught and coached literally over 2,000 young people already in my career. I have made the conscious decision to dedicate my life to these children, and will define my success in this profession and life in large part by the types of humans they become years down the road. While there are plenty with far more experience than me, over a decade in to this gig I feel pretty qualified to say the following about young people...

They’re dumb. But they’re supposed to be.

They fail. But that’s the best way to learn.

And they are always...ALWAYS...watching and listening.

Sorry Charles Barkley. We’re role models, whether we want to be or not.

The young Memphis Grizzlies are in a similar spot to those teenagers I work with, and even the preschooler and toddler that my world revolves around. I see it in their play - they’re working through the NBA landscape, just as a freshman navigates the halls of a new school the first week or so. They’re making silly mistakes, just like a sophomore football player making the leap from JV to Varsity. They’re paying attention to the coaches and veterans around them, just as my two daughters walk like my wife and eat like their father (far too fast). They’re NBA babies, most of them, freakish athletes trying to figure out how to apply their skills among other titans.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

So when far-too-early analysis and “hot takes” are published and unleashed, questioning scheme or playing time/style, I find myself wondering how many young kids those folks interact with daily and also asking myself this question-

What were you expecting?

Players that had foul issues as freshmen in the Big Ten like Jaren Jackson Jr. are going to have foul issues in the NBA, especially considering he missed 24 games due to injury during their rookie campaign.

Coaches that are in their first season at the helm of their teams like Taylor Jenkins always struggle to establish their schemes, especially considering there is no player on the active roster that was born in the 1980’s.

Do the math. No one over the age of 30.

Teams that have a 24 year old in Dillon Brooks as their “elder statesman” in terms of length of time spent with their teams always need time to get used to playing together, especially considering the fact that six - SIX - of the players currently on this Memphis roster were on the team seven months ago.

Kyle Anderson is arguably their best player four games in (small sample size theater).

Jae Crowder is leading the team in minutes played.

A rookie, Ja Morant, is leading the team in scoring. In fact, of the top-5 scorers for the Grizzlies, one of them (Jonas Valanciunas) has played in almost three times as many games in his career than the other four - Morant, Jackson Jr., Brooks, and Brandon Clarke.

And the team is 1-3, needing an overtime miracle three to win at the buzzer to avoid being 0-4, and folks are either over-analyzing the “why” or panicking about who can, or can’t play for this team moving forward.

What. Were. You. Expecting?

Now don’t get me wrong. I run a Grizzlies blog. I get the need for #content. It’s a grind, and even in a season most accept as meaningless when it comes to eventual wins and losses you are pressed to find the missed rotation here, the poorly set feet on a jumper there, that can explain why they are what they are. It’s the nature of the beast, and by God there are going to be lean times when it comes to wins so you’re going to be breaking down a lot of poorly played basketball.

They key is to not let those poor plays and long losing streaks to come create any long-term prognosis about what this coaching staff, or team as a whole, will be a year, or three years, in the future.

2019-20 Memphis Grizzlies Media Day Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

For the same reason you cannot proclaim a kid a failure after failing a test, you cannot say Jaren is a lost cause due to his fouling issues - even if they last the whole season. Concerned? Of course. But anything definitive would be missing the point of the campaign to come.

For the same reason I cannot say my daughter is a “bad kid” for hitting me or my wife when she is upset for not getting her way, I cannot condemn the coaching style of Taylor Jenkins. He is learning on the job, just like most of his players, and he is at the helm of a roster that is designed to be good in 2022, not 2019.

With several players on those future Grizzlies that currently are in Denver. Or Sacramento. Or playing for a college basketball team, or a pro squad in New Zealand.

These Grizzlies are going to fail. That failure is not the Memphis Grizzlies...as long as those that they hear and see don’t fail them.

Turning on such a young group at any point - November, April, or any time in between - would be a gross miscalculation. Even if they underachieve in terms of development, the youth and inexperience on display front he court to the sidelines to even the front office should remind us of the sheer professional basketball ignorance that is present. Ignorance isn’t always a bad thing - this team doesn’t know better. But they will learn, as long as they’re given the chance.

Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill, Jonas Valanciunas, and even Kyle Anderson matter immensely to this roster. As long as they are here (bold prediction - at least one will be gone by the trade deadline) their experience and influence will be massively impactful. Tayshaun Prince in the front office matters. The assistant coaches on this staff that have been around the game matter. The fan base that has seen success, the media that has covered the highs and lows of Memphis Grizzlies basketball for close to two decades...it all matters for these kids. Negativity will breed infighting. Individual blame will lead to group fracturing. Tension will only take away from the progress we all want so badly to see.

Malleable minds will mold, bend, or break in whichever way they are shaped.

So be fair. Critique. Break down the stumbles and falls. It’s the best way to advance and grow. But be patient and keep your eye on the prize far down the road. Watch your words, and speak what you see clearly with what the organization clearly has made a priority - competition without expectation. One, two, or even twenty games is a drop in the bucket of the overall rebuild that has just begun in Memphis.

Jaren Jackson Jr. commits dumb fouls. But he was always going to.

Taylor Jenkins has failed at second half adjustments. But it is how he will learn.

The Memphis Grizzlies are a fun, but bad, basketball team. Be weary of expecting more than that and being too negative about a future that is nowhere near established.

Children will watch, and listen.

Follow @sbngrizzlies