MikeCheck: On the court and in community, Bane embraces next big steps with Grizzlies

MEMPHIS – In charting his growth as a team leader and budding NBA standout, incremental progress would be one of the last terms to describe Desmond Bane’s ascent.

So as the Grizzlies’ breakout guard winds down the summer ahead of his third NBA season, it’s only fitting that Bane is embracing the task of taking another big leap – in life and in basketball.

Juggling changes on both fronts has kept Bane busy coming off a breakout season when he helped Memphis post a franchise-record 56 victories, win a postseason series for the first time since 2015 and push eventual NBA champion Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals.

“Basketball is the main thing – that never stops,” Bane said of his mindset seven weeks out from the start of NBA training camps. “It’s my kid, camps (and) community events. But basketball is always the main thing. As long as I keep that the main thing, everything else falls into place. I’m definitely going to continue to grow and make another jump for sure.”

When it comes to Bane’s impact off the court, significant leaps have already been made.

I want to do things like this, bring smiles to kids’ faces, the best way I can. Especially in an area like Memphis, it’s essential for kids to get some excitement going into the school year, to get the proper materials. I remember going school shopping as a kid and some things you have, some things you don’t. But we’ll be able to supply them with the necessary things to get started.

Desmond Bane

Last month, Bane shared photos and messages on social media of his newborn son as a proud father for the first time. The 24-year-old sharpshooter wrapped up July by hosting a free youth basketball clinic and community picnic in his native Richmond, Indiana.

And those wide-ranging outreach efforts continued this week in Memphis as Bane opened August with a back-to-school backpack giveaway at FedExForum that benefited 150 kids. In words and deeds, Bane is as committed to expanding his outreach for worthy community causes as he is determined to improve almost every aspect of his rapidly developing game.

Desmond Bane on-stage

Fatherhood has added another layer of maturity to a young man who already conducted himself with poise and class well beyond his years. And as his profile blossoms as one of the NBA’s top young shooters, Bane is grateful to redirect some of that spotlight and attention onto growing his base of sponsors and business partners he’s aligned with for his charitable causes.

“The visibility is what it is, but I do this out of the goodness of my heart, regardless of being an end-of-the-bench guy or the best player on the team,” Bane said of his outreach, with Shelby County Schools set to open Monday. “I want to do things like this, bring smiles to kids’ faces, the best way I can. Especially in an area like Memphis, it’s essential for kids to get some excitement going into the school year, to get the proper materials. I remember going school shopping as a kid and some things you have, some things you don’t. But we’ll be able to supply them with the necessary things to get started.”

If this feels familiar, well, it is.

The Grizzlies have a long and strong Indiana-to-Memphis pipeline of guys who have endeared themselves to this community with their play as well as their personal philanthropic touch.

Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, both with Indiana roots, were deeply embedded in this community as they drove the Grizzlies to seven consecutive playoff seasons during the Grit’N’Grind era. Randolph’s retired No. 50 sits high above FedExForum and he now serves as a franchise ambassador. The Grizzlies have also committed to retiring Conley’s No. 11 eventually.

I’ve talked to a few of my teammates about eventually doing some things together. Memphis being the place where I play, and Richmond, Indiana being the place where I grew up, those will be the two places that hit home the most. Anything on top of that is a cherry on top.

Desmond Bane

Bane, however, only needs to look across his current locker room to find a teammate who’s traveled a similar pathway. Grizzlies star forward and fellow Indiana native Jaren Jackson Jr. has been instrumental since arriving in Memphis four years ago in the development of community voting initiatives as well as girls’ athletics and fitness programs.

Bane is already firmly following in some phenomenal footsteps as a person and player. His next goal is to partner with more of his current teammates to give back in even more ways throughout the region and across some of his colleagues’ hometowns.

“Just get out in the community, hang out and chill – bring people together,” Bane said of his motivation, especially coming out of a global pandemic that limited such gatherings. “I’ve talked to a few of my teammates about eventually doing some things together. Memphis being the place where I play, and Richmond, Indiana being the place where I grew up, those will be the two places that hit home the most. Anything on top of that is a cherry on top.”

Building on a sweet season on the court is the next task at hand.

Bane, Jackson and All-NBA point guard Ja Morant anchor a chore group that returns largely intact from a team that was one of the league’s most improved squads last season. The Grizzlies have advanced a step farther in the postseason in each of coach Taylor Jenkins’ three seasons in Memphis. They’ve re-signed point guard Tyus Jones in free agency and added four players, including first-round picks in forwards Jake LaRavia and David Roddy, in June’s draft.

Fulfilling his role as a young veteran, Bane hosted the rookies at his Memphis home when they arrived in town after the draft to prepare for NBA summer league action. He’s also taken on more of a mentoring and workout role with forward Ziaire Williams, last year’s lottery pick.

The regular season was extremely important for us, but we’re trying to make some more noise in the playoffs. You look at the best teams, Golden State and the top teams across the league that have been able to build something over a long period of time – that’s part of our journey. We’ve got to the playoffs the last two years, and we’re surrounding that core with the right pieces. The sky is the limit.

Desmond Bane

As far as boosting his own game, Bane knows he’ll need to come back even better and stronger to deal with the increased attention he’s certain to attract from opposing teams this time around.

Bane set a franchise record with 271 made 3-pointers, doubled his scoring from his rookie season to 18.2 points a game last season and shot 43.6-percent from beyond the arc. He was also third among all players in 3-pointers made per game during the playoffs.

Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, and Desmond Bane

Playing alongside Morant, Bane is confident the Grizzlies will again boast one of the most productive backcourts in the league. But the ultimate goal is team success and returning to the playoffs for a third straight season to make a deeper run.

“That was some of the most fun basketball I’ve had since I was a kid,” Bane insisted of last year’s playoff performance. “The regular season was extremely important for us, but we’re trying to make some more noise in the playoffs. You look at the best teams, Golden State and the top teams across the league that have been able to build something over a long period of time – that’s part of our journey. We’ve got to the playoffs the last two years, and we’re surrounding that core with the right pieces. The sky is the limit.”


While reaching for the sky with his team, Bane is eager to stay grounded in community work.

His primary reason?

“There’s a lot of blue-collar people here trying to make something of themselves,” Bane insists.

Considering his work ethic on and off the court, count Bane among them.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: Grizzlies building ‘gold standard’ track record for NBA draft, development success

MEMPHIS – If recent history is any indication, the Grizzlies are essentially a lock to make a smart, productive and impactful addition to their roster coming out of Thursday’s NBA Draft.

“Memphis is a bit of a gold standard as far as being able to draft and turn players into starters or rotation players,” former NBA executive and ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks insists. “They’re going to get two really good players where they’re picking, or maybe those picks get packaged and they move up. And that’s the recipe for roster sustainability here.”


Count Marks among those around the league who believe the Grizzlies are one of the best-positioned franchises entering both the draft on Thursday and the July 1 start of free agency.

Memphis enters the draft with two first-round picks (Nos. 22 and 29) in addition to the No. 47 overall pick in the second round. Beyond that, executive vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman and the front office could have at least $20 million in salary cap space for free agency. There’s also tremendous flexibility to make further moves with a collection of attractive expiring contracts as well as potential sign-and-trade options to facilitate larger deals.

At a minimum, the Grizzlies could simply use their draft picks to add more depth to one of the NBA’s brightest young cores alongside Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Ziaire Williams. Those players were all first-round picks at various stages of the last four NBA drafts.

Ziaire Williams Draft

And that group fueled a historic run in which the Grizzlies matched a franchise record with 56 victories and pushed the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors to six games in the Western Conference semifinals. Memphis posted the league’s second-best record with the second-youngest playing rotation among the NBA’s 30 teams last season.

Kleiman and coach Taylor Jenkins, who signed a multiyear contract extension last week, intend to remain aggressive and opportunistic this offseason as the team builds on what they believe is a championship foundation. The next step in that process leads Memphis into the draft, where the Kleiman-led front office has traded up from its initial position each of the last three years.

“Our approach is we’re going to take whatever we have available to us and work to make this team better,” Kleiman said entering the offseason. “We have a lot of draft assets. Are there opportunities that we have to make ourselves better within a window of contention? I’m excited to see what opportunities there are. We’re not going to lose sight of what got us here. We’re going to put ourselves in position to keep capitalizing on it.”

Speaking on a national conference call to promote ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft, Marks praised the Grizzlies for establishing a great culture and building their foundation through the draft. He also emphasized the success of Jenkins’ development system in Memphis after the front office brought in quality players through the draft.

Morant (2019) and Jackson (2018), who arrived as the second and fourth overall lottery picks, made All-NBA teams this past season. Their success was highly anticipated if not outright expected entering the league. But the Grizzlies have also seen Dillon Brooks arrive as the No. 45 overall pick in the second round and become one of the league’s most productive two-way wing players. They’ve witnessed Desmond Bane, who arrived as the No. 30 and final pick of the first round two years ago, become one of the league’s top-five three-point shooters this past season.

And regardless of the Grizzlies’ draft night outcome this time, more of the same is expected.

This is an interesting draft because very few players who were projected first-round picks or even top-40 picks decided not to enter their names in the draft. You have incredible depth of all these young players who, a lot of them in my opinion, should have probably stayed another year in college to really enter the NBA on the (lottery) red carpet.

Jonathan Givony

“Certainly, Ja is the headliner, but just look at what they’ve been able to do in the draft when you look at Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, Jaren, Brandon Clarke, the list goes on and on,” Marks explained. “They’ve been able to identify and develop, and the goal is now to retain. They’ve kind of hit the market on building their roster organically.”

The Grizzlies should find ample value in the 20s with this year’s draft class if they stand pat as currently positioned, according to highly regarded ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony.

“The Grizzlies, with those two picks, have a lot of options in front of them,” Givony said on the eve of the draft. “This is an interesting draft because very few players who were projected first-round picks or even top-40 picks decided not to enter their names in the draft. You have incredible depth of all these young players who, a lot of them in my opinion, should have probably stayed another year in college to really enter the NBA on the (lottery) red carpet.”

Jaren Jackson Jr. Draft

Most offseason projections – in the draft and free agency – list the Grizzlies biggest potential needs at backup point guard and depth at the wing-forward position.

Among some notable prospects Givony believes could be available in the Grizzlies’ draft range late in the first round at point guard are Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler and Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard. And wing prospects who fall in that early-20s range for the Grizzlies on recent mock drafts are Duke’s Wendell Moore, Arizona’s Dalen Terry and Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley.

There’s a care factor that goes into winning. We just love guys who come in and want to compete, want to win in every little thing. It’s the shooting games, the drills, the card games, the free-throw championship belt, the halfcourt shots, it’s everything. If you compete, you’re unselfish and ultimately care at the end of the day, those are great building blocks. We’ll take it from there. We’re going to develop as much as we can the great talent we bring into the organization.

Taylor Jenkins

The Grizzlies have previously shown a willingness to leverage draft assets to trade up on the board. They’ve also gone the other way and packaged picks with a current player in deals to acquire a proven veteran with playoff experience.

But there are similar characteristics they seek in just about any player they target.

“When you step into Memphis, you’re going to embrace giving everything of yourself for the team,” Jenkins said. “There’s a care factor that goes into winning. We just love guys who come in and want to compete, want to win in every little thing. It’s the shooting games, the drills, the card games, the free-throw championship belt, the halfcourt shots, it’s everything. If you compete, you’re unselfish and ultimately care at the end of the day, those are great building blocks. We’ll take it from there. We’re going to develop as much as we can the great talent we bring into the organization.”

Another draft brings another chance to maintain that Grizzlies gold standard.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: Rising young Grizzlies eager to attack next steps in offseason development process

MEMPHIS – The baseline drive, reverse dunk and icy stare-down set it off.

On the way to arguably the Grizzlies’ most improbable victory of the season, rookie Santi Aldama pump-faked Suns defender Jae Crowder into the air at the 3-point line, drove past Phoenix center Deandre Ayton along the baseline and slammed in a reverse dunk.

Santi Aldama #7 of the Memphis Grizzlies
Santi Aldama #7 of the Memphis Grizzlies dunks the ball against the Dallas Mavericks on December 8, 2021 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.

As he descended from the air, Aldama calmly stared across the way toward the Grizzlies bench that night in April. Greeting his gaze was a raucous bench, where teammates Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane and others jumped from their seats and emphatically crashed into one another in unbridled excitement.

Aldama was later mobbed by those same teammates when he checked out of the game as the shorthanded Grizzlies throttled a healthy Suns team that posted the NBA’s best record.

When several Grizzlies – from franchise catalysts Morant and Jackson to role players at the end of the bench – declared this week during exit interviews that this was the most fun season many have ever had playing basketball, it’s the ‘Santi dunk’ moments they point to as evidence.

We’ve said it all year long – everybody here loves this team, loves this year, loves these times, loves our locker room. This is probably the most fun I’ve had playing basketball since I was a kid and first picked up a ball.

Desmond Bane

“We’ve got a special group here,” Bane assured. “We’ve said it all year long – everybody here loves this team, loves this year, loves these times, loves our locker room. This is probably the most fun I’ve had playing basketball since I was a kid and first picked up a ball.”

The fact that the Grizzlies maintained their youthful energy all season long made it fun. And the reality that a core of first and second-year players were right in the middle of the season’s most productive moments keeps optimism growing that the fun will keep flowing in Memphis.

As the Grizzlies exit the most prolific season in franchise history and eye next month’s NBA Draft, they’re set up to extend a pipeline of young talent contributing to success. This week’s lottery solidified Memphis with two first-round picks – Nos. 22 and 29 – in the June 23 draft.

Meanwhile, the last four players Memphis selected in the last two drafts will enter the summer eager to improve their games and expand their roles ahead of next season. That development process continues with workouts in preparation for summer league play in July.

I’m going to take a week to see the family, and then after that I want to be here. I want to be in the gym every day, the weightroom, focus on my nutrition. I’ve never been more excited for a summer offseason more than this one. With the progression I made this year alone, I know I’m going to be an even better player by summer league and into next season.

Ziaire Williams

“I told all the coaches I’m locked in this summer,” said swingman Ziaire Williams, who played 71 regular season and playoff games as a rookie after being picked tenth in the 2021 draft. “I’m going to take a week to see the family, and then after that I want to be here. I want to be in the gym every day, the weightroom, focus on my nutrition. I’ve never been more excited for a summer offseason more than this one. With the progression I made this year along, I know I’m going to be an even better player by summer league and into next season.”

Ziaire Williams #8 of the Memphis Grizzlies
MAY 7: Ziaire Williams #8 of the Memphis Grizzlies dunks the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 7, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California.

Aldama, picked No. 30 last year, played least but the 6-10 developing power forward provided arguably the most enjoyable highlight of the Grizzlies’ season with that dunk against Phoenix. Bane, Williams and Xavier Tillman gained significant playoff experience and combined for 19 postseason starts during the team’s run to the Western Conference semifinals.

While Morant and Jackson, both age 22, anchor the youth movement as franchise cornerstones, the Grizzlies have meticulously added promising core pieces around them in the two drafts that followed their arrivals. The collective breakthrough led to Memphis posting the league’s second-best record at 56-26 while playing with the NBA’s second-youngest roster.

And from the viral postgame team videos and photos to the celebratory moments on and off the court, the Grizzlies have made sure to enjoy every chance to bond as a team. The enthusiasm and connection are essential aspects of the culture that is in place.

They look out for each other, they care for each other. If you look out for the team, the individual stuff will take care of itself. When I talk about proof of concept in how we operate, I’m encouraged our guys have so deeply bought into that notion. And they enjoy it. Everyone enjoys what we’re doing. We keep our foot on the gas, but we enjoy what we’re doing.

Zach Kleiman

“The care factor is incredibly high,” Grizzlies executive vice president Zach Kleiman said. “They look out for each other, they care for each other. If you look out for the team, the individual stuff will take care of itself. When I talk about proof of concept in how we operate, I’m encouraged our guys have so deeply bought into that notion. And they enjoy it. Everyone enjoys what we’re doing. We keep our foot on the gas, but we enjoy what we’re doing.”

Both Bane and Tillman built on encouraging rookie seasons to plug key holes for the Grizzlies during their second runs through the league. Bane was one of the league’s most improved players and averaged nearly 19 points, four rebounds and two assists during the playoffs.

As the full-time starter alongside Morant in the backcourt, Bane became one of the NBA’s most lethal 3-point shooters this season, knocking down a franchise-record 271 shots from beyond the arc. His 48.9 percent shooting on threes in the playoffs is the highest among players attempting at least six 3-pointers per game.

After spending time in summer league last year primarily at point guard, Bane’s focus this summer is to further improve ball-handling and to shoot even more efficiently and effectively.

It’s about variety. I think I complement Ja’s game well because he collapses the defense and draws attention. So I know I’ll get a few of those (open looks). But to get a few myself off pick-and-rolls, transition threes, on rebounds and kick-aheads, just those things to where I can get 10 efficient threes up a game (is the goal).

Desmond Bane
Desmond Bane #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies
MAY 13: Desmond Bane #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies look on during Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 13, 2021 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California.

“You look at all the high-level scorers in this league, and I feel like they either get to the free-throw line a lot or shoot a lot of threes,” Bane said as he referenced Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. “It’s about variety. I think I complement Ja’s game well because he collapses the defense and draws attention. So I know I’ll get a few of those (open looks). But to get a few myself off pick-and-rolls, transition threes, on rebounds and kick-aheads, just those things to where I can get 10 efficient threes up a game (is the goal).”

Williams is expected to supplant Bane as the primary catalyst on the Grizzlies upcoming summer league teams as he prepares for his sophomore NBA campaign. Bane plans to partner with Williams in workouts this offseason to help Williams take the next leap in production.

The Grizzlies traded up in the lottery to pick Williams at No. 10 overall, and some outside the organization expected the wiry, 6-9 forward to be a development project his first few seasons. But Williams quickly played his way into a rotation role for coach Taylor Jenkins because of his athleticism, defense, confident 3-point shooting and ability to finish in transition.

Williams knows there’s plenty of work ahead to improve in all facets of his game – and frame.

My biggest thing is I want to win. Whatever my role is after the summer, I just want to be the best version of me to help my team for next year. It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to show everybody what I can do.

Ziaire Williams

“I think I can tap into another level I haven’t reached with my body yet, for sure,” said Williams, who is listed at 185 pounds. “My biggest thing is I want to win. Whatever my role is after the summer, I just want to be the best version of me to help my team for next year. It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to show everybody what I can do.”

The young Grizzlies showed plenty of potential this season.

They’re confident the best is on the horizon.

“This season was successful, for sure,” said Tillman, who stepped in as starting center during the first-round series win over Minnesota. “I didn’t really know where we’d finish at the beginning of the year. It didn’t look too good for us early, but we got it together and went on some serious runs. I had a lot of ups and downs, but I really learned how to be a pro.”

The games have ended this season for the Grizzlies.

But the learning never stops for their budding prospects.

MikeCheck: Morant, Jackson to unlock ‘scary’ next level as Grizzlies build on breakout season

MEMPHIS – Scary!

That essentially says it all.

And that’s the key word Ja Morant used when asked to describe the impact he and Jaren Jackson Jr. will have on the court together for the Grizzlies when the talented young tandem starts to really put it together. After three NBA seasons as teammates, Morant and Jackson believe they’re only just beginning to reveal how dominant their bond can be for this franchise.

As Morant exits a breakthrough 2021-22 season, one of his biggest takeaways is the glimpse of promise he and Jackson flashed early in the Western Conference semifinals against Golden State.

Both Morant and Jackson posted 30-point efforts in Game 1, combining for 67 points, 19 rebounds, 11 assists and three steals. They knocked down 10-of-20 attempts from 3-point range and shot 48.9 percent overall from the field to open the series against the Warriors.

Memphis came up just short in a one-point loss that night. But a larger point was made as the Grizzlies’ catalyst reflected after the season on the long game moving forward.

“I feel like we showed good signs early on in this series, and the first couple of games I played, about how special we can be with both of us on the floor together,” Morant said of growing with Jackson as they shifted focus toward offseason improvements. “It’s just a matter of time before it’s real scary for everybody once we’re actually clicking.”

Finding effective ways for one of the NBA’s most dynamic young duos to start “clicking” more consistently next season is a top priority for Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins. A major step toward developing that click requires Morant and Jackson to stick on the floor together.

The fact that Morant and Jackson enter the offseason without any major injury or recovery concerns is a significant boost. Morant and Grizzlies top basketball executive Zach Kleiman confirmed earlier this week that the knee bone bruise that sidelined Morant for the final two games of the 4-2 series loss to Golden State wouldn’t require offseason surgery.

After a few weeks of “offloading” and rest, Morant plans to get back to work on his game and his body coming off a season in which he finished sixth in MVP voting, won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award and averaged 27.1 points, 9.8 assists and 8.0 rebounds in the playoffs.

Expect Morant to remain connected on the summer workout trail with Jackson, who’s coming off the best and healthiest season of his four-year career after playing in 78 regular-season games and all 12 playoff contests.

We’re always on the same page, always locked. Mentally, we’ve always had the same goals since Day 1, so it’s been easy to click on and off the court. There’s a lot to be positive about and to think about. But there’s so much more to do, we’re still young. We’re going to strive more, and this is a good foundation for us.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Injuries and rehab stints have limited Jackson and Morant to 135 of a possible 247 games they could have played together since Morant entered the league as the No. 2 overall pick in 2019. Last season, with Morant mostly healthy, Jackson missed all but a dozen games before recovering from knee surgery to finish the season.

This season, Morant missed 27 games to injuries while Jackson was the team’s most durable player and finished as the NBA’s leader in total blocked shots. But there’s optimism that the stars will align for the pair of 22-year-old, franchise cornerstones.

“You saw the Warriors series, even all year, what we can do,” Jackson said of the tandem’s upside when available. “We’re always on the same page, always locked. Mentally, we’ve always had the same goals since Day 1, so it’s been easy to click on and off the court. There’s a lot to be positive about and to think about. But there’s so much more to do, we’re still young. We’re going to strive more, and this is a good foundation for us.”

Jenkins has seen a large enough sample size to unlock the next layers of development for Morant and Jackson. The Grizzlies have also built an ideal supporting cast around the two superstars, with second-year guard Desmond Bane and rookie lottery pick Ziaire Williams contributing to the NBA’s second-youngest roster posting the league’s second-best record.

Ziaire Williams and Desmond Bane
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – MARCH 08: Ziaire Williams #8 of the Memphis Grizzlies and Desmond Bane #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images.

Having matched the franchise’s best record at 56-26 – including a 20-5 mark in games Morant was sidelined – there’s reason for excitement about where this team can end up with good health.

“Trying to put a full season together is a big first step in that direction, and we’ve got more of a sample size of that for sure,” Jenkins said. “The connection they can have on the offensive end – I’m always trying to come up with ways to get them involved in different actions and what it might be. I think they’re starting to get that sixth sense wavelength over time. I’m starting to see it more, and you can see it on the floor.”

Jenkins can’t wait to work on more schemes this offseason to activate Jackson and Morant in unison. Even after delivering historic production amid career seasons, both players emerged from exit interviews with comprehensive notebooks of offseason improvements to make.

“You see all these pages? It’s long,” Jackson quipped as he pointed at his development packet. “(Jenkins) expects a lot of me and I expect a lot of myself, so we’re on the same page there.”

That’s going to be one of my biggest tasks of the summer – continue to understand how I’m going to unlock those guys amongst all the great depth we have. But when Ja and Jaren are leading the charge, that’s my responsibility to figure out better ways.

Taylor Jenkins

The goal is to add more sustainable and productive moments to the script.

The Grizzlies are 75-60 in the 135 games Morant and Jackson have played together since 2019, with Morant averaging 22.5 points, 7.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Meanwhile, Jackson has contributed 15.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in those contests.

They’ve both scored 20 or more points in the same game 22 times, including twice in the playoffs. The Game 1 output against Golden State was their most productive postseason game together. As Morant suggested, it only provided a hint of how scary this combo is.

“Those guys are pillars of what we do on both ends of the floor,” Jenkins said. “That’s going to be one of my biggest tasks of the summer – continue to understand how I’m going to unlock those guys amongst all the great depth we have. But when Ja and Jaren are leading the charge, that’s my responsibility to figure out better ways.”

The best is ahead of them both. Especially if they remain hungry and can stay healthy.

“So now it’s just about getting the reps (because) we know what each other wants, we know what we’re looking for,” Morant insisted. “I don’t want to say it’s a one-two punch, because we have a lot of guys who jump in as well and throw punches. It’s going to be scary, but we’ve got to continue to lead. Lead us to wins and lead us to a championship.”

With Jackson locked into a contract extension that kicks in next season and Morant eligible to sign his own max extension this summer, the commitment is there.

So is the connection. A scary one.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: Kleiman, Jenkins seek sustainable success as ‘hungry’ Grizzlies plot NBA title course

MEMPHIS – After advancing a step farther into the playoffs for a third straight season, the North Star guiding the Grizzlies toward NBA title aspirations is moving closer within reach.

And the Grizzlies are firmly committed to clearing any hurdles necessary to further develop and keep their talented young core intact, according to the team’s top basketball executive.

“The goal is, and continues to be, to win a championship here,” said Zach Kleiman, Grizzlies executive vice president for basketball affairs. “The decision-making North Star continues to be what’s going to maximize our chances of doing so, building in a sustainable way. I’m excited to see what opportunities there are to make us better. We’re going to look at everything on the table . . . to increase our likelihood of getting us to the point we believe we can get to.”

Kleiman’s comments came Sunday afternoon as the team wrapped up exit interviews following one of the best seasons in franchise history. The Grizzlies came up short in a 4-2 series loss in the Western Conference semifinals to the championship-savvy Golden State Warriors.

Despite playing the final two games without All-Star point guard and leading scorer Ja Morant, the Grizzlies initially staved off elimination with a record-setting, 39-point home win in Game 5. But Golden State’s experience and clutch performances from future Hall-of-Famers Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green eventually overwhelmed Memphis in Game 6.

The decision-making North Star continues to be what’s going to maximize our chances of doing so, building in a sustainable way. I’m excited to see what opportunities there are to make us better. We’re going to look at everything on the table . . . to increase our likelihood of getting us to the point we believe we can get to.

Zach Kleiman

Kleiman, coach Taylor Jenkins and several of the team’s core players were encouragingly reflective on a breakout 2021-22 season and eager to come back next season even stronger. The priority is to take the necessary steps to build on a 56-26 season, which tied the Grizzlies’ franchise record and was also the second-best mark in the league this season.

The fact that Memphis accomplished those feats with the second-youngest roster in the NBA was the primary reason Kleiman, 33, became the youngest recipient to be named league executive of the year. With the Grizzlies also guided from the bench by Jenkins, runner-up in NBA Coach of the Year balloting, the direction of the league’s most improved team is clear.

Before arriving in Memphis three years ago, Jenkins was an assistant in Atlanta and Milwaukee. He played a key role in helping to develop the young and rising Hawks and Bucks, respectively, into 60-win teams and – in Milwaukee’s case – an eventual NBA champion.

The blueprint isn’t completely different in Memphis. Neither are the expectations for the Grizzlies, who have advanced farther each season Jenkins has been on the bench. It started two years ago when the Grizzlies lost in the play-in round in the NBA bubble in Orlando.

The following year, Memphis won the Play-In Tournament and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in four years before losing in five games to Utah. And this season, the Grizzlies beat Minnesota in six games to win a playoff series for the first time since 2015.

“We can’t wait to get back to work, sit down with Zach and our amazing staff and get back to work to figure out how we can keep moving forward in this progression,” Jenkins said. “It’s been an unbelievable year, but there are also plenty of ways we can get better. Our guys on this team have never wavered in their ability to adjust and adapt to whatever challenges we’ve faced. And we’ve found success together. After a win, after a loss, no matter, we found ways to stick with our values and get better from it. We take that same mindset into the offseason.”

The team that sent the Grizzlies into the offseason provided the greatest compliment of all. Curry and Green, who have been on three NBA championship teams in Golden State, both said they see plenty of potential in Memphis. They also see a few similarities in the steps the Warriors took to keep their core together, and what the Grizzlies have a chance to do with Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane forming Memphis’ foundation.

It’s been an unbelievable year, but there are also plenty of ways we can get better. Our guys on this team have never wavered in their ability to adjust and adapt to whatever challenges we’ve faced. And we’ve found success together. After a win, after a loss, no matter, we found ways to stick with our values and get better from it. We take that same mindset into the offseason.

Taylor Jenkins

“You’ve got to keep that team together,” Green said of the Grizzlies’ promising future. “That’s a group of young guys that are hungry, they are talented, they are athletic. They’ve got it. It will be good to see their progression over these next few years and where they can take it. Because, that’s an incredible young team. They can be special. They can be really special.”

The Grizzlies enter the offseason relatively healthy, potentially stocked with two first-round picks in the upcoming draft and well-positioned with salary-cap space for free-agency.

Kleiman confirmed the bone bruise in Morant’s right knee that sidelined him during the Golden State series does not require surgery this summer. Morant also suggested Sunday that had the Grizzlies forced a Game 7 against the Warriors back in Memphis, he would have pushed desperately to test the knee to see if he could’ve possibly played in the game.

One of the most important orders of business this offseason sounds like it’ll be an easy one: locking Morant into a rookie max contract extension as soon as he’s eligible. Citing NBA collective bargaining rules, Kleiman declined to talk specifics, but intimated the Grizzlies are committed to Morant for the foreseeable future.

Ja Morant sideline
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – MAY 11: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts from the bench against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter in Game Five of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Morant also didn’t hesitate when asked about his long-term desire to lead the franchise.

“If your (question) is, Do I want to be in Memphis?” Morant said. “Hell yeah!”

The foundation is set for a team that led the NBA this season in rebounding, blocks, steals, second-chance points, fast-break points and points in the paint. The Grizzlies’ brand also had a breakthrough season as Memphis ranked in the top-10 in NBA merchandise sales while Morant also cracked the top 10 in player jersey sales.

Both on and off the court, the Grizzlies are connected on a mission and a vision.

That vision remains locked on the championship North Star Kleiman first mentioned two years ago. And it’s a target zooming closer into focus now.

“Even at that point, I was confident and hopeful that if we bought into it, were exact and were disciplined in our approach, we’d establish a process for team-building,” Kleiman reflected. “And here we are. There’s a very clear proof of concept of what we’re building. There’s an internal and external buy in to how we’re operating here. We’re thrilled to be at this point now, but we’re not taking anything for granted. We’re not satisfied.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.