Griz­zlies’ new coach is defin­ing mo­ment for Pera

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Mark Gian­notto

The Mem­phis Griz­zlies coach­ing search lasted ex­actly two months.

It took longer than any other coach­ing search in the NBA this year, and it took longer than any other coach­ing search the Griz­zlies have con­ducted since com­ing to Mem­phis.

It featured can­di­dates from at least six dif­fer­ent NBA fran­chises and as far away as Lithua­nia.

Mem­phis was thor­ough and prag­matic and quiet, and re­ally ev­ery­thing team Pres­i­dent Ja­son Wexler and Vice Pres­i­dent of Bas­ket­ball Op­er­a­tions Zach Kleiman said they would be upon as­cend­ing to their new roles 61 days ago.

Now whether they ul­ti­mately made the right choice in Mil­wau­kee Bucks as­sis­tant Tay­lor Jenk­ins, well that’s any­one guess. That’s what the Griz­zlies his­tory, par­tic­u­larly their his­tory un­der owner Robert Pera, sug­gests. Be­cause this hire is as much about him as it is this new front of­fice.

Jenk­ins be­comes the Griz­zlies’ sixth first-time NBA head coach in a row, dat­ing back to 2007.

Marc Iava­roni was a dis­as­ter. Lionel Hollins worked out splen­didly. Dave

Jo­erger kept that stan­dard alive and well. David Fiz­dale started out strong but clashed with Marc Ga­sol and fiz­zled quickly. J.B. Bick­er­staff proved mostly for­get­table.

The com­mon thread is that be­gin­ning with Pera’s stew­ard­ship of the team in 2012, none of them were ac­tu­ally given enough time to prove if they were the wrong choice.

Hollins and Jo­erger were gone after mak­ing the NBA play­offs. Fiz­dale lasted 19 games into this sec­ond sea­son (after mak­ing the play­offs in his first). Bick­er­staff was fired hours after re­ceiv­ing a vote of con­fi­dence from for­mer gen­eral man­ager Chris Wal­lace.

So the ques­tion hang­ing above all this, the ques­tion that will prob­a­bly de­ter­mine Jenk­ins’ suc­cess here in Mem­phis, is: How pa­tient is Pera will­ing to be with Jenk­ins?

If Mike Con­ley is traded, in the next cou­ple months or at next year’s trade dead­line, can Pera em­brace a full-on re­build? Does he un­der­stand the Griz­zlies are headed to­ward some short-term lumps, no mat­ter how ex­cit­ing a fu­ture with Jaren Jack­son Jr. and Ja Mo­rant may seem?

At first glance, this hire makes sense for this new front of­fice.

Jenk­ins, 34, has a de­gree from Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s pres­ti­gious Whar­ton School of Busi­ness, just like Kleiman has a Duke law de­gree, just like Wexler has a Columbia law de­gree, just like Vice Pres­i­dent of Bas­ket­ball Strat­egy Rich Cho has a law de­gree and once worked as an en­gi­neer at Boe­ing, and just like se­nior ad­viser Glen Grun­wald has a North­west­ern law de­gree.

The Griz­zlies sud­denly seem like the nerdi­est team in the NBA. Is it too nerdy, and too de­void of bas­ket­ball lif­ers, with a young owner, the NBA’S sec­ondy­oungest coach and a lead bas­ket­ball ex­ec­u­tive who’s even younger? That’s to be de­ter­mined.

But to get this organizati­on back into con­tention again, to build a sus­tain­able prod­uct that can con­tend in the West­ern Con­fer­ence again, they’re go­ing to need to think out­side the box. Just like they did a decade ago in as­sem­bling the Core Four.

What­ever this be­comes, it’s cer­tainly not tra­di­tional.

Jenk­ins just helped the small-mar­ket Mil­wau­kee Bucks com­pile the NBA’S best reg­u­lar-sea­son record and reach the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals. Yes, bur­geon­ing su­per­star Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo was a huge part of that.

But so was Bucks coach Mike Bu­den­holzer’s de­ci­sion to give his team the free­dom to shoot 3-point­ers at will, a strat­egy built on the an­a­lyt­ics Jenk­ins ap­par­ently used on his un­ortho­dox climb up the NBA’S coach­ing ladder. So was Mil­wau­kee’s pru­dent draft­ing of An­te­tok­oun­mpo and Mal­colm Brog­don, and its smart ac­qui­si­tions like Khris Middleton, Eric Bled­soe, Brook Lopez and Nikola Miritic.

Jenk­ins is a Bu­den­holzer dis­ci­ple who started his NBA ca­reer work­ing in a San An­to­nio Spurs front of­fice that pro­duced sev­eral fu­ture gen­eral man­agers. He even­tu­ally fol­lowed Coach Bud, who pre­vi­ously worked un­der Gregg Popovich be­fore be­ing hired by Atlanta and Mil­wau­kee. Jenk­ins also has some head coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence after lead­ing the Austin Toros of the NBA De­vel­op­ment League in 2012-13.

He will in­herit a Mem­phis ros­ter in tran­si­tion.

Con­ley could be gone by the time Jenk­ins coaches his first game. Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas may or may not be here, de­pend­ing on if he de­cides to opt in to the fi­nal year of his con­tract by Thurs­day’s dead­line. Only three cur­rent play­ers (Con­ley, Jack­son and for­ward Kyle An­der­son) are un­der con­tract for his sec­ond sea­son. That’s an im­por­tant de­mar­ca­tion. Utah Jazz head coach Quin Sny­der and Brook­lyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkin­son were also for­mer Bu­den­holzer assistants, and their suc­cess likely in­flu­enced the Griz­zlies’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

Both made the NBA play­offs this past year, but both also en­dured two sub.500 sea­sons in a row be­fore mak­ing it to the post­sea­son as first-time NBA head coaches.

Which, of course, brings us back to Pera and the leash — or lack thereof — he might give Jenk­ins. This hire is another defin­ing mo­ment for him, and the first for his new front of­fice.

Lets hope they’re all as com­mit­ted to Jenk­ins as they were to this search.

You can reach Com­mer­cial Ap­peal colum­nist Mark Gian­notto via email at mgian­[email protected]­nett.com and fol­low him on Twit­ter: @mgian­notto

Vol­ume 178 | No. 163 Home de­liv­ery pric­ing in­side Sub­scribe 844-900-7099 ©2019 $2.00

Colum­nist Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NETWORK – TENN.

Pera

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