You know that feeling when you finished the last episode in a tv series’ season? That feeling of knowing you have to wait however long until the next season starts, but not knowing if it’s going to be as good as the last. Well, that’s pretty much how we all feel in regard to the end of an era— the Grit and Grind era.
On the night of June 13, the city of Memphis rejoiced at the sight of seeing our own Marc Gasol proudly hoist an NBA championship trophy into the air with a huge smile displayed on his face. Amidst the celebration, however, Memphians were forced to face the cruel reality of the situation. Gasol was no longer a member of the Grizzlies, but instead a Raptor. And the final remaining evidence of the renowned “GNG” of the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley Jr, seemed to be as good as gone. And he was. On June 19, the eve of the NBA Draft, the Grizz dealt Conley to the Jazz in exchange for Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, and some draft picks, thus officially establishing the Grit and Grind era as completed, introducing a brand new look for the organization.
The next night came with more developments, as the team expectedly selected the 6’3 freakishly-athletic point guard from Murray State Ja Morant with the number two pick. Widely regarded by analysts as the best player behind the somehow more athletic Zion Williamson from Duke, Memphis took no risks selecting Murray to fill the beloved shoes of Conley as the court general. But the night did not end there. Thanks to a transaction with the Thunder, Memphis landed Brandon Clarke at the twenty-first pick as well. A power forward from Gonzaga, Clarke is a force in the paint, leading the NCAA in field goal percentage last year. With the additions of Morant and Clarke, the new faces from Utah, a new coach at the helm, and an already-existing young core, it appears the Grizzlies have their squad mostly determined before free agency, and there is a lot to be excited about.
Admittedly, it’s sad not to see a Gasol on the court anymore, to hear a “Z-Bo” chant, or to admire Tony Allen absolutely lock down some of the league’s best in the Fed-Ex Forum. However, like we’d tell an ex who periodically checks in to see what’s up, sometimes it’s best to cut off ties completely. Not that we shouldn’t cherish the wonderful memories that Conley and Co. provided for the city, but it’s time to meet new people. So let’s do exactly that.
First off, Ja Morant. He’s an athlete who is built to score the ball. He can pass. He can shoot. He can smash a guitar at a 901 FC game. He’s a player who everyone should be excited about. If you’re not, watch some highlights of his career season this past year at Murray State and I’m sure you will be then.
Next, Brandon Clarke. At 6’8, Clarke is a true power forward who likes to play around the basket. He’s an excellent shot blocker, a good free throw shooter, and will be an excellent complement to Jaren Jackson Jr.’s capabilities as a stretch four. Clarke was a steal at the 21st pick, as he has potential that easily makes him a top fifteen pick.
Now, the Jazz haul — namely, Allen and Crowder, as it is ambiguous whether Korver will remain with the team. In history with the Celtics, Crowder proved himself essential on an Isaiah Thomas-led team that exceeded expectations. Crowder is an experienced defender; he will certainly have a role on next year’s team.
Photos: Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen
Grayson Allen is best known as the former high flying Duke star who had a pivotal role in the team’s 2015 championship run. Allen had a quiet rookie season in Utah, but has the potential to have a significant upside. He’s a natural scorer, a great shooter, and will fit in seamlessly with the Grizzlies’ group of guards like Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Tyus Jones.
Lastly, new head coach Taylor Jenkins, a former assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. While with the Bucks and Hawks, Jenkins coached under reigning coach of the year Mike Budenholzer. Budenholzer boasted a league best 60-22 record with the Bucks this past season and coached his team to the Eastern Conference finals. Jenkins is entering the system with years of experience and will be crucial in the development of the Grizzlies’ young players.
The title of Grit and Grind belongs to Mike, Zach, Marc, and Tony; however, that doesn’t mean what will exist in Memphis next season isn’t worthy of excitement. The potential of Ja Morant, JJJ, Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and others cannot be ignored. They are new, yes, but the future of the Grizzlies is simply unknowable. That’s what makes it so intriguing. A new beginning starts in October, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.