Late Wednesday night (or early Thursday morning) Grizzlies GM/Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Zach Kleiman spoke with media on a Zoom call about the moves that Memphis took part in during the 2020 NBA Draft. He could not speak specifically about the two players acquired in the Draft - Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman - because both come to the Grizzlies as part of still processing trades. But what Kleiman was able to discuss, and do so quite emphatically at times, is what he and the Grizzlies organization are building. They aren’t just empty words either - he and the front office at his side are taking plans and making them reality.
There’s a culture brewing in Memphis. And it’s not an accident.
“We have a type”, Kleiman said - “tough, physical...guys that are really unselfish...” That was already evident in the players brought in since the front office turned over a year and a half ago now. Beyond the easy Ja Morant accolades, the selections of Brandon Clarke, Bane, Tillman, and the two-way contract signings of John Konchar last year and Killian Tillie and Sean McDermott this year, show Memphis pursuing self-made players that worked to achieve beyond just what their talent dictates. They want versatility in their players that are capable of contributing on multiple levels. They value basketball intelligence and positional malleability.
But most importantly, they want players that will “impact winning”, as Kleiman puts it, while “buying in to our culture”.
The Memphis Grizzlies “standard”, discussed by Kleiman as well as Head Coach Taylor Jenkins, is coming more and more in to view. It’s not a brand for the faint of heart. If you’re looking to solely enjoy the bright lights of the NBA without a willingness to put in the work, there’s not a place for you in Memphis. This franchise seeks out hardened players - ones that come to their success in non-basketball hotbeds like Murray State or TCU, or perform well as a big man despite being undersized. They want talent that will help maximize what their two brightest young stars, Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., are capable of as the future of the Grizzlies is shaped in an undertaking that will not be rushed.
Kleiman reiterated that in his media session, and it applies to returning from injury as well. While both Jaren and Justise Winslow are recovering according to plan, Kleiman stated that the earlier resumption of the season is unfortunate in terms of their starting the season. Kleiman said that Winslow will likely not be back “day one” but will be there “early in the season”, while “Jaren is going to be out a minute...(he’s) ahead of schedule but of course we’re not going to rush him...” Nor should they. It of course won’t help their playoff prospects in a loaded Western Conference, but that’s not the goal in the here and now anyway. The goal is to be competitive long-term. That will come with health, and pushing two young players (both with histories of injury) to return before they’re ready would be counter-productive to the task at hand.
While it slightly dampens the short-term prospects for a team that overachieved last season, it should not take away from the focused efforts toward creating a climate in this Grizzlies organization that prioritizes the team and what is best for the collective unit above all else. In the here and now, that means making sure two key cogs of those lofty stated goals are ready to go before putting them back in to action.
This is a long-term process towards building a championship team. Talent of course is necessary to that end, and with free agency officially beginning Friday that journey could take additional twists and turns. But for a market like Memphis, defining what it means to be a Grizzly must go hand in hand with that pursuit of improved personnel. Kleiman and company demonstrated they understand that quite well once again in the draft. And the future of the Memphis Grizzlies is brighter because of it.