The Memphis Grizzlies tip off training camp today in preparation for the 2022-2023 NBA season. Before they could all get back on the court together, the Grizzlies held their annual media day availabilities and met with the media with plenty of optimism for the upcoming season. Zach Kleiman, Taylor Jenkins and the entire Grizzlies roster were made available to the media. While there were certainly a ton of takeaways, there was one central message being delivered by the squad: they believe in their vision and their way of doing things.
Much has been made about the Grizzlies lack of activity this past offseason. There were no free agent signings other than re-signing Tyus Jones. The have essentially replaced De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson with rookies and a 35-year old who tore his ACL last spring. The Grizzlies didn’t make a flashy trade, moving a ton of picks and assets for a Dejuonte Murray or Rudy Gobert —nor did they sign some of Twitters favorite targets in Otto Porter Jr. or Donte DiVincenzo. Grizzlies General Manager told us yesterday that he is always looking for ways of making the team better and will exhaust all options to help the team reach its goal of winning a championship. Ultimately, though, it is clear the Grizzlies are confident in their process of team building, particularly through the draft. We may never know how active Kleiman and company really were this past offseason in regards to searching for trades, but the message heading into camp was clear: They believe in the guys they have on this roster to make a championship run. While we will have 82+ games to figure out if this team is capable of making a deeper playoff run, the Grizzlies have set themselves up nicely to compete now and into the future.
The Grizzlies return the core of the team that won 56 games last season and finished with the 2nd best record in the NBA. While other teams in the West certainly got better this past offseason due to health (looking at you Nuggets and Clippers) or via trade (Timberwolves), the Grizzlies figure to be firmly in the playoff picture as long as the core of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. don’t miss too many games this season. While the central theme was the Grizzlies reinforcing their belief in their process, there are still plenty of other takeaways from yesterday’s availabilities starting with Jaren Jackson Jr. himself.
An early return for Trip?
While both Zach Kleiman and Taylor Jenkins stated that JJJ remains on his original timeline to return from his foot injury, there was a ton of optimism in regards to his rehab and progress. He still has not started the “ramp up” process in his rehab, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is confident in his return. While opening night is “probably not likely” according to JJJ, he says “you’ll like it” about his return. Jaren seems to believe that he is ahead of schedule in his rehab process but it will ultimately be up to the team doctors and coaching staff to clear him. Jaren was given a 4-6 month timeline to return to the court back in early July, and it certainly felt like we are closer to seeing him in the 4 or 5 month range, instead of 6 months or later. The Grizzlies have always been cautious with JJJ and his injuries, but the feeling with this one is different. Don’t be surprised if we see Jaren back around Thanksgiving.
The Grizzlies are extremely tight lipped when it comes to discussing their contract negotiations and understandably so until there is ink to paper. That didn’t stop us from getting a hint at the contractual status of a few key Grizzlies yesterday. Zach Kleiman mentioned Brandon Clarke, Steven Adams and Dillon Brooks as key members of the team in his availability. Dillon Brooks shot down extension questions very quickly, simply stating “I don’t talk about that”. With it making more financial sense for Brooks to hit free agency next season, and with his overall status with the team in question now more than ever, it is probably in the best interest of both sides to see how this season plays out. I wouldn’t rule out an extension, but I wouldn’t bank on one either. Meanwhile, with Steven Adams, there wasn’t much to be made about his extension talks. With an already high salary, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Grizzlies think they are better off trying to bring him back on a cheaper deal next summer.
On the other hand, Brandon Clarke was pretty candid when asked about extension talks. He admitted he didn’t really know what he could or couldn’t say in regards to talks, but he ended his press conference by saying “I’m definitely happy to be here. I want to be here.” and although nothing is official until the extension is signed it certainly feels like Brandon Clarke will re-up with the Grizzlies. As a Restricted Free Agent, the Grizzlies will have the opportunity to either re-sign BC next offseason or match any offer sheet he gets from another team — if he doesn’t agree to an extension by the October 17th deadline.
One of the hot topic questions at media day was trying to pry the team's plans on what to do with the Jaren Jackson Jr. sized hole in the starting lineup. With last years backup 4 now in Minnesota, it is a “healthy, open competition” for minutes at the 4 as the team enters camp. While Zach Kleiman and Taylor Jenkins praised the play of all the candidates, there was one name that came up quite frequently when talking with the players: Santi Aldama.
Aldama didn’t blow anyone away last year as a rookie out of Loyola, but he’s certainly impressed his teammates. Dillon Brooks said “You guys are going to be really surprised from what you see out of Santi this year”, with other players chiming in similar praises for the big man. While Taylor Jenkins will experiment with his lineups throughout camp, it sounds like Santi Aldama figures to play a key role for the Grizzlies this season. For what it’s worth, Aldama told us he’s embracing the opportunity this season after what he says was a really good summer. Aldama told us he’s confident heading into camp and much more comfortable compared to where he was a year ago.
Acknowledging your weaknesses
While most of media day is filled with hope and excitement, the Grizzlies were pretty open when discussing areas of improvement for the upcoming season. Both Kleiman and Jenkins mentioned they wanted to be better in the half court offensively, noting they were great in transition but not so much when the game slowed down. They’re hoping on a greater emphasis on 3-point shooting will help open things up for the Grizzlies half court offense.
Ja Morant acknowledged his injury history and has been working on his body and durability all summer. John Konchar acknowledged he’ll need more than just 1.8 3-point attempts per game in his new role. Dillon Brooks talked about improving his playmaking and being a more efficient scorer. Aldama noted he needs to be more consistent as a 3-point shooter and a bigger body defensively. Jake LaRavia told us the coaching staff has already been going after him to be more aggressive shooting the ball after being passive during summer league. Steven Adams even cracked a joke when asked about his 3-point shooting videos from the summer, telling us “don’t expect it. Just be surprised and cheer me on” if he shoots and makes a 3-pointer this upcoming season.
Media day is a time for excitement and hope, but it was a welcome sign to hear the team discuss the areas they need to improve upon this upcoming season.
Danny Green is here to stay.... for now
There were a ton of questions regarding Danny Green and his future with the team back over the summer when the team acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers. Coming off an ACL injury, it’s no guarantee Green sees the court this season. Kleiman, however, believes that the initial returns in Green’s rehab could see him return to the court before the regular season concludes. With such a serious injury, Kleiman didn’t want to speculate on a certain month but he did want to prove a point: Danny Green is a part of this team.
How Green progresses in his rehab could be a big factor for the Grizzlies. If he’s able to come back healthy, he provides a ton of experience on the court and is an ideal 3-and-D guy in the Grizzlies system. If he has a set back in his rehab, or if they simply determine he won’t be healthy this season, Green’s expiring contract makes him a viable trade candidate should the Grizzlies get active in trade talks this season. Regardless if his ultimate on court impact, the coaching staff and team seemed extremely excited to have the veteran in the locker room for this upcoming season.
Media day is an exciting day for everyone, because it marks the beginning of the NBA season. Every team is 0-0 and most teams enter camp with the same goal in mind: winning an NBA Championship (just don’t bet on the Spurs, according to Greg Popovich). The work never stopped for the Grizzlies after falling to the Warriors in the second round last season, but we’re just a few days away from getting our first glimpse at the progress the young Grizzlies have made over the last few months.
The Grizzlies still have some big questions to answer before the season opener on October 19th, but the vibes remain immaculate as the team heads into camp.