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ANALYSIS: With a lost season forcing roster moves, Memphis Grizzlies positioning for next season

The Memphis Grizzlies facility has been a hub of activity over the past week with a series of trades, releases, and expiring contracts. The team parted ways with Xavier Tillman, Steven Adams, and David Roddy.

In the Adams trade, the Grizzlies acquired Victor Oladipo and three second-round picks. From the Tillman deal, they gained Lamar Stevens and two second-round picks. The Roddy trade brought a right to swap first-round picks, Yuta Watanabe, and Chimezie Metu.

Terry Davis

Both Metu and Oladipo were released by the Grizzlies before playing a game. The team also announced two additional roster moves post the Feb. 8 trading deadline. They converted second-round draft pick GG Jackson from a two-way to a four-year contract and signed Trey Simmons, previously on a 10-day contract, to a two-way contract.

It’s no secret that injuries have upended the Grizzlies’ hopes to compete for a championship this season. But even as they try to make the best of a bad situation,  Grizzlies General Manager Zach Kleiman reiterated that even as it develops younger players, the team wants to compete every night.

“We care deeply about every single game that we play and that’s going to remain the rest of the season,” Kleiman said after the trade deadline on Thursday. “I think Taylor (Jenkins) and the group are doing a good job focusing on developing the right habits, competing at a high level.”

The moves were made to prepare for next season and to give the organization more roster flexibility. The team had two injury replacement spots available this season, one of which was removed with the Adams trade and another worth $12.5 million expiring at season’s end.

Kleiman, while not explicitly mentioning ‘tanking’, indicated a forward-looking approach. He did not rule out the return of Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, nor Marcus Smart this season.

“We are focused on how we are putting the team in a position to compete at the highest level, next year and beyond,” Kleiman said. “There is more work to be done. We want to be in a position whether draft or trade, to put this team in a position to go out and compete.  There is a window of contention as our key guys enter into their prime.”

The trades have evoked a range of emotions. Adams, Tillman, and Roddy were integral in the Grizzlies’ back-to-back Divisional Championships and second-seed standing in the Western Conference playoffs. The signing of Trey Simmons and the contract extension for GG Jackson have been positive developments.

Jaren Jackson Jr., who has played with Tillman since their AAU days, expressed his feelings on Tillman’s departure: “Obviously upset, gutted. I feel bad; it’s tough. I’ve played with him since I was 15 years old. I’m blessed that I had the opportunity to play with him this long… It’s just part of the business.”

Up until now, Roddy and Tillman had played their entire NBA careers under Jenkins, who praised his former players after the trades.

 “I just want to publicly say thank you to [David Roddy]. Obviously, we made … difficult decisions and both [Roddy and Tillman] made tremendous impacts.

“David established a lot of great pro habits — ultra-competitive,” Jenkins added. “I told him we’re going to miss that. He made a great mark here. He’s got an opportunity somewhere else. It’s a tough part of this business, but we definitely wish him well.”

Roddy played in 118 games over two seasons with the Grizzlies, while Tillman played in 207 games across four seasons.

Meanwhile, weeks after upgrading Vince Williams to a full contract, Memphis also locked up promising rookie GG Jackson Jr. And while the roster will continue to morph, Jenkins continues to instill his team with hard work.

The Grizzlies continue to demonstrate that they are a team not to be taken lightly, with every game being a potential challenge for their opponents — even with G-League callups on the floor instead of their All-Stars.

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