LAS VEGAS – Most members of the current roster of the Grizzlies are in Las Vegas supporting Memphis’ summer league team. They showed up in full-support mode even though only half of them will be around for the opening day of the regular season. The rest may land spots with the Hustle, the Grizzlies’ G-League team.
All-Star point guard Ja Morant, Dillion Brooks, and Desmond Bane were just a few of the players in attendance for the games. Like the others, they have been cheering great plays and celebrating the team’s wins.
Morant, who was the overall No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, is getting a fresh look at summer-league play – this time as a league superstar. His summer-league squad won the championship. This year, the winning team will receive a championship ring, with the Grizzlies still on track bracket to play for the title.
Morant has a lot to celebrate while in Las Vegas. He recently signed a rookie extension contract worth $193 million that could escalate to $241 million, if he makes the All-Star game or one of the All-NBA teams next season.
Tyus Jones was also in Las Vegas. In a surprise to many observers, Jones has been resigned (a two-year deal) by the Grizzlies to back up Morant.
A new face for the Grizzlies is NBA veteran Danny Green, who has made his presence felt in Vegas. Green was acquired in a draft day trade with Philadelphia in exchange for De’Anthony Melton and a draft pick.
David McClure – in his third season out of Duke – is coaching this year’s summer-league team. He is tasked with integrating the veterans, rookies, and free agents into a good working unit. The team won two of its three games in Utah.
The only losses this summer for the Grizzlies have come when the team rested the core veterans.
Memphis’ next game will be on Thursday (July 14) against the Boston Celtics. If the Grizzlies win, they will be two games from the summer-league crown. The summer league runs until July 17.
Meanwhile, fans of the Grizzlies are staying alert for team management to make a big splash this summer. Given the success of last year’s team, many feel the team may be one or two pieces away from making it to the NBA Finals. Grizzlies General Manager Zach Kleiman has said he is not afraid to make a move if it is beneficial to the team.
The Grizzlies did get some bad news in the last couple of weeks. Power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. underwent foot surgery for a stress fracture and is expected to miss four to six months. Jackson, who has a history of health issues that have kept him out of the starting lineup, was relatively healthy last season as he made first-team All-NBA Defense.
Memphis, which finished with the second-best record in the NBA, drafted four players that have been creating a buzz among the team’s diehard fans.
Jake LaRavia, Memphis’ No. 1 pick, has been lighting it up from long distance.
David Roddy, the Grizzlies’ other first-round selection, has been solid. He may have to learn at an accelerated pace because of the injury to Jackson.
“I was told they wanted to maximize my versatility being able to switch from 1-5 and being able to knock down shots, making the right reads and right plays,” said Roddy.
“Being that grittiest guy, I think that is what they really want and to match my competitiveness on the NBA level.”
What does he want to improve on this summer?
“Shot creation is something I have to be more comfortable with,” said Roddy. “It is a little bit different on this level. Ball handling and defense as well. I want to be a lock-down defender and be reliable in clutch situations.”
Memphis native Kennedy Chandler has been playing both point guard and off the ball in the summer league. His speed to the basket has been very impressive. And while one of the questions regarding Chandler was whether he could play at a high level despite his height, so far he has shown that the answer is yes.
The highlight of the Utah Summer League was the play of Kenny Lofton Jr. The 6-foot, 8-inch forward has many conjuring images of Grizzlies legend Zach Randolph. One of the unexpected stars of Las Vegas this summer, he has shown power in the post and touch from the outside in connecting on three-pointers.
“I just really watch myself and try to improve my game,” said Lofton of the comparison to Z-bo. “When I work out, I work on what I have to do each and every day.”
Santi Aldama, whom the Grizzlies picked No. 30 in the first round of the 2021 draft, has been on fire the last couple of games following some criticism for his lack of production this summer. With Jackson expected out until late December, Memphis is looking to Aldama to step up.
After a recent subpar performance, Aldama said, “I think I was over thinking things. I was trying to do too much, so I just slept on it.
“You are not happy when you have a game like that. I just wanted to help the team to win and bounce back. I had a new mind set coming up on a new day. Just play hard, smart and play together.”