The Memphis Grizzlies believe they have a great foundation after returning to the NBA playoffs much faster than anyone outside the franchise expected.
That makes losing their first-round series to the Utah Jazz, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, a little easier to take.
"We definitely didn't want our season to end the way it did, but I mean we have a lot to be proud of," Grizzlies guard Ja Morant said after his team lost 126-110 late Wednesday night as the Jazz wrapped up the series in five games. "Our fight. We had an unbelievable season. We achieved one of our goals. ... We know what we've got to do. Everybody's hungry for more."
Memphis exceeded expectations by finishing 38-34 to reach the NBA's new play-in tournament. The Grizzlies beat the San Antonio Spurs, then the Golden State Warriors on the road to earn the No. 8 seed and snap a four-year playoff drought.
That made the Grizzlies not only the youngest team this postseason but the youngest in the playoffs since the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011. Memphis won 112-109 in the opener against the Jazz, which posted the NBA's best record during the regular season, but Utah made at least 17 3-pointers in each of the next four games to take control of the series and end the Grizzlies' charge.
"We've got a bright, bright future ahead of us," Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. "And I know if we continue to work on the things that we are capable of and we will work on and the investment everyone's put in, we're going to have just this bright future that I'm so excited about."
Reaching the postseason should speed up the team's learning curve. Dillon Brooks, who averaged 25.8 points a game against the Jazz, said the Grizzlies learned the importance of adjustments during a series.
"We'll be back," Brooks said. "I think the taste of the playoffs is on everybody's mind. ... This has got to be a special offseason for every single one of my teammates."
Morant had an impressive follow-up season to his NBA rookie of the year campaign in 2019-20, becoming the fifth-youngest player in NBA history to lead a playoff team in both points and assist a game. He scored 26 in his first NBA playoff game, then set a franchise record for the postseason with 47 points in Game 2 against Utah.
Morant finished the series with back-to-back double-doubles and now plans to work on every aspect of his game during the offseason. He struggled at times with free throws, and his 3-point success dipped from his rookie season, although he shot 46.7% from behind the arc during the play-in games and was 5-for-9 in Game 5 after the Jazz dared him to attack from outside.
Jenkins called Morant an "unbelievably huge part of our future" as someone who has only scratched the surface of what he can become.
"Ja has grown up so much this year," Jenkins said. "I know he's going to be highly motivated going into the next season taking the next level as a player. His words going into the locker room were 'We will be back.'"