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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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FAST FRIENDS: Are young Grizz cubs developing true friendship off the court?

Teens bond over junk food. This is not news.

But while neither is playing during the NBA Summer League, both Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. were spotted in Las Vegas snacking on arena food. One reporter even had the nerve to call them out on Twitter!

Fear not; the Twitterverse lit Wolken up for throwing shade at a couple of teenagers for being teenagers. Morant, too:

And in case you’re wondering: No, a couple of teenagers smashing junk food still is not news, even if they’re young NBA stars.

But I’ve been a reporter long enough to know that even not-news can point to actual news-news. And as I scrolled through @JaMorant’s feed, I noticed a couple of images that showed something any Grizzlies fan should hope for: Friendship.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant smashed junk food during Summer League in Las Vegas. Photo: Twitter.com/JaMorant

If Morant and Jackson are not just developing chemistry but a genuine friendship, the importance cannot be understated.

It was friendship that brought LeBron James and Dwyane Wade together in Miami. Reportedly, it’s why Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined forces in Brooklyn.

Conversely, franchises have been decimated by warring stars. Shaq and Kobe with the Lakers. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in OKC. For that matter, friction between Durant and former teammate Draymond Green contributed to Durant’s departure from the Warriors. In Houston, James Harden and Chris Paul reportedly shattered the Rockets’ locker room last spring by not speaking to each other for more than two months.

I could be (and probably am) reading too much into a couple of social media posts. But Jackson was among the first to give Morant some dap at the NBA Draft. And around the time these pictures were taken, these two teenagers were throwing down on junk food at a basketball game.

And keep in mind, both Jaren and Ja are almost certainly smashing In-N-Out burgers with teammates Brandon Clarke and Grayson Allen, who are actually playing in the Summer League.

They look like they’re building a chemistry beyond basketball. That has to be a good thing for the Grizzlies.

Clearly NOT your ‘GNG’ Grizzlies …

As I type this, there are exactly three players not named Jaren Jackson Jr. remaining from the Memphis Grizzlies’ roster just one year ago: Ivan Rabb, Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks.

And with the way the new Zach Kleiman-led front office is cleaning house, I expect all three of them to be gone any minute now. I don’t have any inside intel that’s going to happen; I’m just going off of what appears to be a franchise-wide purge.

Given how few players even remain from the post All-Star roster – bye, bye, Delon Wright, Avery Bradley, C.J. Miles and Tyler Dorsey – it seems that this new front office wants to erase EVERYTHING former Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace did. There will be no comparisons to the Grit ‘N’ Grind Grizzlies because it is literally a completely different team.

We’ve seen this coming for quite some time, actually. I remember calling for a rebuild as far back as 2015, when the Grizzlies gave up a 2-1 series lead to the eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors. Even then, the Grizzlies simply didn’t have the speed, scoring and shooting to keep up with the pace-and-space NBA.

For years, we knew what to expect from the Grizzlies, on and off the court. We knew they’d struggle to score 20 points in a quarter most nights. We knew Marc Gasol was going to pass up shots he should take. We could predict Tony Allen blowing layups and Lionel Hollins scowling after a loss. We lowered our expectations for the NBA draft because, well, Hasheem Thabeet and Wade Baldwin IV.

And now? I have no idea what to expect. Everyone is unproven, from the top on down.

Kleiman has received universal praise for restructuring the roster lately, but we really won’t know how good a job he’s done until maybe this time next year. Kleiman hired a first-time NBA Head Coach in Taylor Jenkins, the former Milwaukee assistant who is super-smooth in press conferences. But can he coach?

Oh, and on the court, they’re handing the keys to a couple of teenagers in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. And if you’re visualizing those Ja-to-JJJ lobs for dunks, remember those are only theoretical right now. As tantalizing as the idea of these young Grizzlies are, it’s all smoke until the season gets underway.

Though it hasn’t been explicitly stated as such, the plan appears to be to throw all the youngsters into the NBA Cauldron – execs, coaches and players alike – and allow them all to grow up together. They’ll also lose quite a few games along the way, because young teams usually do.

“We want to make very clear that we’re taking the long view on this,” Kleiman said in June, while introducing Jenkins.  “We’re not going to get there overnight, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, it’s going to take a lot of obstacles and failure along the way.”

But as we’ve witnessed in just the past few wild and frenetic weeks of the NBA Draft and free agency, the NBA landscape can shift drastically and quickly. Some of these splashy summer moves won’t pan out. Injuries will happen. And maybe, just maybe, the new-look Grizzlies will gel faster and better than anyone expected into a legit contender. We’ll just have to wait until October and see.

Until then, probably the only reasonable thing to expect from the Grizzlies is more trades and roster moves. So . . . Good luck, Kyle, Dillon and Ivan . . .

Coming and going

. . . and for that matter, all the players who have joined and departed the Grizzlies recently – some in the past few weeks. The still-expanding list of players who have both joined and departed the Grizzlies in the past six months includes Kyle Korver, Dwight Howard , Tyler Dorsey, Julian Washburn, C.J. Miles, Avery Bradley and Delon Wright.

And the trade buzzards are circling over newly acquired Andre Iguodala, who is rumored to seek a buyout to join a contending team. In principle, the Grizzlies could hold onto Iguodala and Jae Crowder for in-season trades, or keep them to help mentor their young players. I mean, you have to have SOME veterans in an NBA locker room, right? RIGHT?

Until the dust settles . . .


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