Grizzlies

Kleiman Made Memphis Must-See Hoops

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In many ways, the Memphis Grizzlies had a dream season.

No, they did not achieve the ultimate goal of winning an NBA Championship. But they took the leap from being a fun, young team to a legitimate title contender– a leap that has eluded many young teams in the league. Not only were they able to make this leap; they did it as the second-youngest team in the NBA entering the season.

Over the next few weeks, Grizz Lead is going to be providing coverage of what should be an exciting offseason: the draft, free agency, Summer League and more. Whatever developments come, they will only add to an organization surrounded with excitement. After all, it had candidates for MVP, MIP, DPOY and COY all on the team this year.

However, it only seems fitting to start all of this coverage by acknowledging the leader that made all of this possible, and the only person who actually won one of these prestigious awards this season: the NBA’s Executive of the Year, Zach Kleiman.

Changing of the Guard

Heading into Kleiman’s tenure, the Grizzlies had entered basketball limbo. The Core Four era was dying in Memphis, and the previous front office had been desperately holding onto the remnants of their success. They had pushed as far as the Western Conference Finals, but those teams just couldn’t get over the hump, and the game seemed to pass them by.

But the city loved those teams, and the front office was doing whatever it could to make the most of them.

Ultimately this led to the team entering the aforementioned limbo. Poor decisions like the signing of Chandler Parsons coupled with the aging of Memphis’ stars put the organization in a terrible position. They had spent far too much money and acquired far too few assets. The slow, painful descent into irrelevance had already taken hold by the time they were forced to trade Marc Gasol midway through the 2018-19 season. That trade was soon followed by the dealing of Mike Conley in the offseason.

Now, let’s be clear: that 2019 Conley trade was an easy call for Kleiman as the lottery balls blessed Memphis with Ja Morant. But even then, Kleiman worked his magic, as the Grizzlies were able to acquire young players, veterans and picks in that trade that have turned into a treasure trove of assets. Memphis has already acquired enough value from that trade to confidently say they won it, and they have yet another first-round pick from it in this coming draft.

In summary, even that value has emerged because of what the current front office has done with it. All the credit to Robert Pera for empowering Kleiman, as he came into his current role with a clear plan, and Pera allowed him to stick to it. He knew he had a potential superstar with Ja Morant, and he built a team that could maximize Morant’s potential.

In year one, Kleiman surrounded Ja and Jaren Jackson Jr. with veterans to help them mature, and in year two he drafted ready-to-play guys in Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman while giving Morant leadership responsibility. Then, in year three, he took the training wheels off, and he opened the door for Morant and this young core to ascend to the team they are today.

Stick To The Plan

When talking about Kleiman and this front office, I’ve developed a saying: “Trust till they bust.” It wasn’t hard in the 2019 or 2020 offseasons. But in 2021, the team traded Jonas Valanciunas for the 10th pick, Eric Bledsoe and the ghost of Steven Adams.

I was distressed, to say the least. But, I eventually convinced myself that some of the young talent like Moses Moody could make it all worth it once the draft came around.

Trust till they bust.

Then, the Grizzlies took Ziaire Williams with that pick. I couldn’t believe it. Moody and James Bouknight were both available, yet they took Williams.

I was beside myself…but I tried to remember, “Trust till they bust.”

Then, the season started, and Williams looked every bit like a rookie.

Every. Bit.

Not to mention, the team looked like it was sorely missing Valanciunas’s offense as it limped to a 9-10 start to the season. “Trust till they bust,” I said (to many, many of my friends, I’ll add). I can’t lie, though– I was not feeling very trusting.

Fast forward to today. Ziaire just provided the team with high-quality playoff minutes, and is the player I am most excited about heading into next season. Adams became a fan favorite and experienced such a renaissance that many fans question the idea of replacing him even with young talent like Mitchell Robinson.

No one loved these moves.

Kleiman made them anyway.

That is what has made Kleiman and this front office so great for this organization. They don’t do whatever the fans want. They do what is best for the team.

While other teams looked for splashy hires, the Grizzlies hired the unknown Taylor Jenkins. While other teams sacrificed future assets to make the Play-In or first round, the Grizzlies chose to methodically progress.

This approach has led to the Grizzlies having the most exciting future in the NBA. They are able to contend now while still having a wealth of assets to make more moves. They have exciting young talent that has barely broken the surface of its potential. At the middle of it all, they have a budding superstar that wants to make small-market Memphis, Tennessee his home.

Why?

Because the organization has made it feel like home.

All Hail The King

This season, the Memphis Grizzlies became the greatest show on hardwood and, as I like to call them, the last fun team in basketball. They skyrocketed to the top of the league and showed fans the exciting potential that surrounds this organization.

As Memphis heads into an exciting offseason, let’s all remember the man leading the charge that has made Grizzlies fans so excited for moves made in the offseason. Zach Kleiman has now earned every benefit of the doubt, and solidified fans’ confidence in being able to “trust till they bust.”

There will be speculations all around about what moves the Grizzlies can and should make, including on this site. But, at the end of the day, this front office has already shown a willingness to make moves no one sees coming. Grizzlies fans may or may not love the moves at first. But, they have seen enough to know that the team is in good hands.

So rest easy Grizz fans– King Kleiman has the touch of gold.

Need More Grizzlies?

Craving more Memphis Grizzlies offseason content? Check out Chris Ingram’s recent take on the Tyus Jones free agency outlook: Savvy Jones Fits Best in Memphis

And be sure to check out all of the Grizz Lead guys at the Grizz 901 podcast, available on both Spotify and Apple Podcasts!

Savvy Jones Fits Best in Memphis

About Nathan Qualls

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