Grizzlies make long-term commitment to young, new head coach
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Taylor Jenkins feels confident that Memphis’ new front office will give him enough time to turn around the Grizzlies.
Jenkins is the Grizzlies’ fourth head coach since Memphis reached the 2013 Western Conference. The 34-year-old coach said Wednesday at a news conference that he learned a lot about the Grizzlies during the interview process and the front office’s vision.
“We know there’s going to be ups and downs,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to have our successes. We’re going to have our mistakes. We want to be perfect, but we know it’s going to take a team to do that, and that’s what made me excited about this opportunity and there was no concern whatsoever.”
This is the first NBA head coaching job for Jenkins, who was Mike Budenholzer’s assistant in Milwaukee this season and was with him in Atlanta for five seasons. Jenkins started in the NBA as an intern with the San Antonio front office before going into coaching with the Spurs’ G League team, coaching the Toros for one season.
While Memphis did not disclose terms of Jenkins’ contract when announcing his hiring Tuesday, Zachary Z. Kleiman, the Grizzlies’ new executive vice president of basketball operations, said the Grizzlies know they won’t get where they want overnight. He said the organization wants Jenkins as its partner while rebuilding the franchise.
“The organization has made a significant commitment to Taylor, a long-term commitment, and we’re collectively vested in making sure we get to that sustainable, special place we’re building toward over time,” Kleiman said.
That would be a change for the Grizzlies under controlling owner Robert Pera who took over the franchise in 2012.
Jenkins replaces J.B. Bickerstaff, fired the day after this season ended in April out of the playoffs for a second straight season. Bickerstaff was hired after replacing David Fizdale on an interim basis in November 2017, and Fizdale replaced Dave Joerger — the assistant promoted in 2013 after Lionel Hollins’ contract was not renewed despite coaching the Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals.
The Grizzlies were one of six teams to hire a new head coach, and the last to fill its vacancy. Kleiman said they took their time doing homework and multiple interviews, saying it became clear Jenkins was the coach they wanted with his basketball acumen and ability to connect with people.
“That’s obviously an important part of what we’re doing here,” Kleiman said.
The new Grizzlies coach was an intern with the Spurs’ basketball operations department during the 2007-08 season after graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in economics. He led the Toros to the playoffs the season he was head coach.
Jenkins now takes over a team that has been revamped since the Grizzlies ended the season 33-49 missing the playoffs for a second straight year. Pera moved general manager Chris Wallace to scouting and later promoted former NBA player Tayshaun Prince to vice president of basketball affairs. Prince worked on the coaching search with Kleiman.
Memphis drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 4 overall last year and holds the No. 2 pick overall — its highest pick since 2009 — in next week’s draft.
The Grizzlies must decide what to do with 31-year-old guard Mike Conley, due $67 million over the next two seasons. Jenkins said he has the utmost respect for Conley and is excited to build a relationship with the guard.
Jenkins said he used WhatsApp to talk with Jonas Valanciunas, who was fishing in Norway. Valanciunas was acquired in the February trade for Marc Gasol, and the center can exercise his $17.6 million player option by Thursday.