MEMPHIS – Spend 10 minutes with Taylor Jenkins, and it is easy to come away with multiple vibes.
Sensing a man in the midst of an identity crisis is absolutely not among them. Set to open his first training camp as an NBA head coach with the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of the month, Jenkins knows exactly where he’s headed, who he is, what he envisions and the approach to take to execute his plans.
“He’s as prepared, organized and as respected as anyone we’ve had,” Gregg Popovich recently said of a long and decorated coaching tree in the San Antonio Spurs organization that once included Jenkins.
Jenkins has done nothing to dispute that notion in the three months since he was hired by the Grizzlies to help spearhead a building process that has reshaped the front office, coaching staff and roster.
Arguably the most rejuvenating offseason in franchise history has seen the Grizzlies snag two of the most explosive players in the draft in No. 2 pick Ja Morant and No. 21 pick Brandon Clarke. Also, second-year forward Jaren Jackson Jr. spent time developing his game with Team USA this summer after an All-NBA First Team rookie season. Memphis executed multiple trades that simultaneously stockpiled future draft assets and surrounded the team’s promising young core with proven, mid-career veterans.
In addition to that, four Memphis roster players are coming off encouraging stints this month with their respective national teams at the FIBA World Cup in China. And Jenkins, who just turned 35 this week as the second-youngest coach in the league, is set to meet that offseason momentum with an invigorating energy of his own as the Grizzlies push toward the Sept. 30 media day to launch camp.
“That excites me, because organically, we’re going to get to a really good spot with everything we’ve laid down already,” Jenkins vows. “We’ve hit the ground running.”
Grind City Media recently caught up with Jenkins to discuss his transition to Memphis this summer, his coaching style, the system he plans to install, first-year expectations with the Grizzlies and more.
Grind City Media: We saw some glimpses during the Grizzlies run to a summer league championship in Las Vegas, but what kind of playing style should fans expect to see from your team this season?
Jenkins: “We’re going to play fast. Pace and space. Hopefully, put a lot of points on the board. Some people only focus on the offensive end of the floor, but we want to be a great defensive unit, too. Why? Because we’re connected and unselfish and we have each other’s back. Even with things we do off the court, we break bread together. We spend time and we do fun activities together. Building those relationships is critical to our success overall. And the last thing, which we can all appreciate, is just be better every single day. Can we compete and grow together? Can we get better every single day?
“That’s going to be emblematic of what our style is going to be as we progressively get better day in and day out. From an Xs and Os standpoint, hopefully you’ll see we’re going to be a high-energy basketball team. It’s a change of style, but hopefully we generate some excitement in the crowd. Defensively, do the same thing. The threes and dunks are one thing. But the blocked shots and great rotations make it really hard on the opposition to get what they want. That’s what really gets the coach’s blood boiling.”
MILWAUKEE, WI – MAY 23: Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and Assistant Coach Taylor Jenkins of the Milwaukee Bucks look on against the Toronto Raptors during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals. Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images.
GCM: What did learning from coaches like Popovich and Mike Budenholzer teach you about enduring adversity and persevering through success as you establish your coaching philosophy and foundation?
Jenkins: “To me, the number one thing is relationships. You talk about adversity. Well, there’s going to be plenty of success in life, and there’s going to be adversity in life. There’s going to be both success and adversity on the court. For us, if we have strong relationships and compete together, we all focus on getting better, the relationships that you have … well, I was (recently) at breakfast with Jae Crowder. It was, ‘Let’s talk about family.’ He’s had a lot of transition in his career. Let’s talk about who you are and what your journey has been like in life. When you show that true care, and I think Popovich is the greatest at it, when you can look across the table at someone and say ‘I’ve got your back and I know about you,’ you can handle and face the ups and downs together throughout the season.
“That bond can carry you throughout. Hopefully, what we’re trying to build here in Memphis is sustained success, and that’s only done through impactful relationships. In the NBA, there’s a ton of turnover and players come and go, but hopefully, as we witnessed with the previous era here in Memphis, with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, we can create that again where the community feels that. We’ll work first hand with the athletes that we have. They are people first. When I got the job, the first thing you’re doing is calling players, starting a rapport to help them through this.”
GCM: One thing that stood out this summer was the quick chemistry you established with Jaren Jackson Jr., who has grown as a young leader for this franchise. What’s that process been like?
Jenkins: “The number one thing with Jaren is he cares. You see that in what he means to his teammates. He loves the game of basketball. His parents are a phenomenal influence in his life and he’s an unbelievable worker. He wants to be around the game of basketball. He knew how important the summer was in this transition, all the while getting healthy after what he went through at the end of last season. But knowing that there was a lot of change going on, wanting to get on the same page with the (new) coach and be there for the team, for him to be that presence in summer league (was huge).
“They were having players meetings in the locker room before I even got in there. And that’s what you want as a coach. You want them talking through different situations. You’re seeing the bonds form. That care factor that he has, I’ve been around some great players – Tim Duncan and Pop’s relationship, in Milwaukee, Bud’s relationship he’s building with Giannis Antetokounmpo – I’m hopeful that with Jaren and Ja, and our young players, we’ll have that type of relationship. And that will expedite our process.”
LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 15: Brandon Clarke #15 hi-fives coach Taylor Jenkins of the Memphis Grizzlies during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the Finals of the Las Vegas Summer League. Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images.
GCM: Speaking of Morant and Clarke, what’s your approach to guiding them into their rookie seasons?
Jenkins: “Biggest thing is I don’t want to put any undue pressure on any rookie that comes in. Those guys are going to have so much thrown at them. The number one thing I expect from them is their professionalism. I want them to come in and know what it means to work, learn the game at this level. They’ve played the game at a high level at Murray State (Morant) and Gonzaga (Clarke), but making that transition here is a lot. Their lifestyles have completely changed. They’re not in college anymore. They’re professionals. Getting them to really understand that, and as that process is unfolding then they’re learning a lot about themselves as players. It’s ‘Where do I fit in? What’s my role on this team?’ We don’t want to fast track anything. Let Ja learn what it means to be an NBA point guard. Brandon is going to be a multi-positional player.
“It’s about taking the smart and calculated approach, where you’re not trying to rush anything and deal with all of these outside expectations of we want this, we want that. Certainly, internally as an organization, we’ve got expectations for them and one of the things I hope we do is engage with the players in that. It’s not a one-way street with us. The players have their ideas, and how we can grow together, that’s going to be exciting because each player has been super receptive to coaching and wanting to get better. It’s getting their feet settled, getting adapted to the NBA game and knowing that this is a completely different level. We know they’ve got great futures ahead of them.”
GCM: With so many changes, adjustments and moving parts going into the season, what are realistic expectations for this team this season? How should fans determine success in your first year as coach?
Jenkins: “It’s not trying to put yourself too far ahead down the line. It’s identifying who are we? We’ve got a new coaching staff, some new players and new front-office staff. For us, it’s an evolving process. It’s not Game 1 or Game 82, this is where we are. It’s ‘How are we building and implementing game after game, practice after practice?’ What does it mean to come in and put in the work every single day? What does it mean to build those relationships? What are those processes? How are we going and advancing with player development? How are we going to identify potential new players for the team? How are we going to work with the medical staff?
“So, for me, it’s that mentality of defining each day who we are. We’re naturally and organically going to grow and not just have this set plan for how we’re going to be from Game 1 to 82. That excites me, because organically, we’re going to get to a really good spot with everything we’ve laid down already. We’ve hit the ground running, and Oct. 1 (first training camp practice) is rapidly approaching.”
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