Nothing in life lasts forever. From your childhood (or that of your children, I’m learning) to relationships you have with loved ones, friends, co-workers...everything passes. The people, places, and things of your days on this earth will always remain seasons of your life - chapters in a story that itself will end some day.
But reflecting on your own mortality, or the eventual end of your time with the various nouns you love, will not help you avoid it when that fateful moment arrives.
It is best to live in the now. And be grateful for what is in front of you.
Thankfully, Memphis Grizzlies fans have a wonderful “now” to live in.
It features the young rising face of the NBA in Ja Morant, a player setting franchise records seemingly on a nightly basis, beaming as he holds his baby girl in his arms. The accolades and highlights are easy to understand in terms of why Grizzlies fans, and the entire NBA, has fallen so hard for this 22-year-old from South Carolina by way of Murray State. But beyond that, Memphis sees renewal and the opportunities it provides when they see Morant. A new season in the life of the Grizzlies flourishing in ways we never imagined so soon after the last chapter ended...some teams haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade. They process for Memphis to go from lottery team to NBA Finals contender has taken three years.
Do not take that for granted. Or the fact that right now, there is nothing to hang disappointment when it comes to Morant or his rising roster of teammates at his side. There will be a time for expectation - starting a month and a half from now with the first time in this generation of the Grizzlies they will be the favorites in a postseason series. But to place those burdens on what Memphis is so fortunate to be experiencing would be a mistake. This team is fun. They play the game as if they’re a high school or college squad - and that’s meant as a compliment. There’s joy and seemingly inescapable energy in how they interact with one another, regardless of whether they win or lose.
That is uncommon...and like everything in life, also will not last forever.
Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson are unrestricted free agents this summer, and as wonderful as it would be to keep this group together entirely (if for no other reason, the immaculate vibes) it is unlikely they both return. Simply look to last summer, where Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman made moves that were in the best interest of the franchise (to him and the Memphis braintrust...but they seem to be working out) when moving on from Grayson Allen and Jonas Valanciunas via trade. Both players were professional and appreciated in their time in Memphis to varying degrees. Both Jonas and Grayson contributed to winning, and the culture Grizzlies fans get to watch on full display on a nightly basis.
But they’re gone to New Orleans and Milwaukee, respectively. On new contracts that Memphis was not going to give them.
The same will likely be true not just this offseason, but beyond. As Ja Morant (deservedly so) receives a contract extension this summer with a Supermax addendum - Morant likely will be named All-NBA after this season, and if he earns that honor again next season he’s eligible - money will begin to get more and more tight. Morant’s fellow draft class member Brandon Clarke is eligible for an extension of his own at the same time Ja is, and players like Dillon Brooks and Steven Adams will be unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2023. Also eligible for an extension in roughly 15 months is Desmond Bane, who surely will see a significant raise (again, deservedly) from his 30th pick scale salary.
Planning for that rise in spending begins in just a few months. And again, Kleiman and company will be in a tough position to have to make choices about who will be in Memphis beyond the here and now.
But prioritizing that logic, while understandable for an NBA front office executive, would be losing sight of the basketball miracle happening right before our eyes.
The Grit and Grind Era was special because of its uniqueness, and this next generation of the Grizzlies is carrying on that special quality - just in a different manner. Grit and Grind was grounded in earthly opportunities, winning in the mud and overachieving relative to the tick tock of time with beloved veterans playing out their final best years in Memphis like Tony Allen and Zach Randolph (yes, he went to Sacramento...but we know why he went to Sacramento. He had $24 million great reasons to understandably go).
“GrzNxtGen” does not have that sense of finality. There’s a beginning here to appreciate and be attentive to - an ascending quality not seen for Memphis in over a decade. This team’s top players - a new “core” of Morant, Bane, and the recently extended Jaren Jackson Jr. - will be on the Grizzlies for some time, more than likely. Bane is the eldest of the three, and is 23 years old - Morant and Jackson Jr. are 22. Only Mike Conley, who was 23 himself during the first great playoff run of Grit and Grind - was the same age as the new Memphis “Big Three”. Marc Gasol was 26, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph were 29.
2011 TA and Z-Bo would be the oldest players on this current Grizzlies roster.
But still, the fact remains that not all these players - the members of the 2021-2022 Memphis Grizzlies - will be part of the 2022-2023 Memphis Grizzlies. The NBA is a business on all sides. While the Grizzlies will probably have to pay the luxury tax as some point to retain multiple top talents, they almost certainly won’t be willing to for the sake of keeping all of the free agents over the next two offseasons on the roster. And from Jones and Anderson to Adams and Brooks (Clarke and Bane are restricted free agents so Memphis will have the right to match offers) all of these players will have earned the ability to go seek out what they want. Maybe some, like Steven Adams, will value the role they’ve earned in Memphis over the money. But it is unlikely all four of them choose to make less than they’d earn on the open market (if Adams and Brooks get there) just to stay with the Grizzlies.
Jones is arguably the best back-up point guard in the NBA. Anderson is arguably the most versatile reserve big in the game that won’t break the bank this summer in free agency.
All things eventually fade to black...even wonderful things like the 2021-2022 Memphis Grizzlies.
Now is not the time to focus on goodbyes, though. There are 19 regular season basketball games left to be played, and after that - barring an epic collapse - at least four more postseason contests with a game one in Memphis for the first time since 2015. That is at minimum 23 (and hopefully more) chances to gather, be it on social media or in person, to watch these Grizzlies defy gravity and conventional wisdom. 23 times to watch in awe as Ja Morant soars through the sky after a pass from Tyus Jones or Kyle Anderson, or to see Steven Adams make an eye-popping dish to Desmond Bane for a lay-up. 23 chances to forget whatever may be going on in the world for just a moment, and see pure, unbridled joy on display as grown men play a child’s game with a similar demeanor in the best way.
Across the country today, sports talk radio and television are discussing the Memphis Grizzlies in a way that has never happened before. Ja Morant is a superstar. His team is fun, and looks more and more like a contender by the day - even in losses their grit and desire shine through. They are led by a coach in Taylor Jenkins that hosts in other markets have to look up his name, but then immediately afterward put respect on it. These are the moments that fandom is about. The time just before your squad makes it big, when they’re starting to take the nation stage...but they are still very much yours. Times like these will be the best of memories...which you will hold on to far more than any contract debate.
Enjoy these times. As Dave Matthews Band said, life is short but sweet for certain.
And in the NBA right now, no team plays the game of basketball as sweetly as the Memphis Grizzlies.