MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Veteran center Jonas Valanciunas chuckled at the idea the revamped Memphis Grizzlies are in a rebuilding process that could take a couple of seasons.
“We can make it in one year,” Valanciunas said. “If we’re going to be successful, it’s on us now to work, give everything on the court, off the court as well. Everybody talking about rebuilding and this and that, we just got to do it ourselves. We just got to play hard, do everything that we need to do, and we can go. Goal is to be good now.”
That may be a tall order for a team anchored by a pair of 20-year-olds in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant and a first-year head coach.
This is a nearly a completely different roster after the Grizzlies shredded the final ties to their past during the offseason, demoting their last general manager to scout duties and firing coach J.B. Bickerstaff hours after last season ended. Zach Kleiman, the executive vice president of basketball operations, revised the roster in a flurry of deals, including seven trades with the biggest sending Mike Conley to Utah.
“We’re playing to win,” Kleiman said.
They also benefited from draft lottery luck rarely seen since this franchise relocated to Memphis. The Grizzlies went from possibly sending their first-round pick to Boston to fulfill a 2015 deal for Jeff Green to their highest selection in a decade at No. 2.
Memphis selected the Murray State point guard in Morant to replace Conley and pair with Jackson, the fourth overall selection a year ago. The Grizzlies also have a new coach in Taylor Jenkins.
“A lot of first time people around here,” Jackson said of his second NBA coach. “So that kind of energy is infectious … He’s straightforward. What you see is what you get. And he’s a very excited person. And I’m glad he’s here.”
NEW COACH, NEW STYLE
Jenkins is the Grizzlies’ fourth head coach since Memphis reached the 2013 Western Conference finals, and he coached the team without either Jackson or Morant to the Summer League title. Jenkins was Mike Budenholzer’s assistant in Milwaukee and for five seasons in Atlanta. The Grizzlies insist they are committed to Jenkins, and he wants Memphis to play a motion-style offense with pace and space, clearing everyone to take 3s.
“I really hope the fans are excited about it even though we’ve got a lot of new players,” Jenkins said. “The new style play will be something that they can really latch on to, and every night whether they’re coming to games and watching at home they’re excited by what they see.”
GRIZZLIES’ NEW DUO
For years the Grizzlies’ key players were center Marc Gasol and Conley. Now their future solidly is in the hands of Jackson and Morant, a couple of talented 20-year-olds. Grizzlies guard Dillon Brook said Morant and Jackson have so much potential, and he’s already been impressed by the rookie.
“He looks amazing,” Brooks said of Morant. “He looks like Derrick Rose. Whatever you guys are saying in the media is exactly what he looks like. He’s going to be a great player to watch.”
Jenkins has Jackson, Morant and Valanciunas as sure starters. The coach also wants Morant playing fast and aggressive, not looking over his shoulder worried that Jenkins thinks he’s making too many mistakes.
“I want him to go full bore, and at the end of the day he’ll figure out what kind of player he is going to be with his long career ahead of him,” Jenkins said.
Valanciunas isn’t the only veteran on this roster. The Grizzlies also brought in guard Tyus Jones, Jae Crowder, center Miles Plumlee and Solomon Hill. Kyle Anderson also is back from shoulder surgery that ended last season after 40 starts for Memphis.
Valanaciunas is recovering from a sore foot from training camp but is expected to be ready for the opener. Forward De’Anthony Melton could be out up to two months recovering from a stress reaction in his back in an injury announced late last month.
Yes, the Grizzlies and Andre Iguodala agreed that the veteran should stay away. He remains on the roster until the Grizzlies either receive an offer they can live with or are forced to make a roster move.