Ja Morant’s eight-game NBA suspension is over, and the two-time All-Star guard rejoined the Memphis Grizzlies.
He was on the bench Monday night as Memphis topped Dallas, 112-108, with a fourth-quarter surge that saw the Grizzlies overcome a 16-point deficit. The Grizzlies announced Sunday that Morant would not play against the Mavericks because of a “Return to Competition Reconditioning.”
Morant did not dress for the game but was on the Memphis bench, coming out to a hearty ovation from the fans just before tipoff. The NBA assessed the suspension after a video from a Denver-area strip club earlier this month showed Morant brandishing a gun.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters before Monday’s game he is hopeful Morant will play Wednesday when Memphis hosts the Houston Rockets (8 ET, NBA League Pass). He is expected to participate in Tuesday’s practice and talk with the media afterward, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
“He is going to be part of practice (Tuesday), and obviously we’re hopeful for Wednesday so long as everything medically clears out,” Jenkins said, adding the delay is part of the “ramp-up process.”
The Grizzlies know Morant has been working out, trying to be ready for this moment. Memphis was off Sunday after back-to-back wins, and Jenkins said he would like Morant to practice or at least participate in a shootaround before seeing game action.
Additionally, the Mavs were without one of their star players for Monday’s game as Luka Doncic sat out. Dallas announced Monday that Doncic, who is dealing with a left thigh strain, is out for the game and his fellow star backcourt teammate, Kyrie Irving, was questionable with right foot soreness.
Irving played and led the Mavericks with 28 points but missed all eight of his shots in the fourth quarter as Memphis outscored Dallas 29-12 in the period.
Mavs coach Jason Kidd added that Irving was running the Dallas offense and making plays, but “we just didn’t capitalize.” Part of Irving’s performance in the fourth could be attributed to him hurting his foot in the third quarter. Irving was wearing a orthopedic boot in the postgame press conference saying he reaggravated a right foot problem. He said the boot was “just precautionary.”
Memphis went 5-3 without Morant, who first stepped away from the team March 4, hours after he livestreamed himself on Instagram displaying a gun at strip club in Colorado following a game against the Denver Nuggets. The Grizzlies said on March 8 that Morant would be sidelined for four more games.
Morant met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in New York before the NBA announced his suspension on March 15, including six games he already had missed.
The league investigation found that Morant was “holding a firearm in an intoxicated state” — but did not prove the gun was owned by Morant “or was displayed by him beyond a brief period.” The NBA also did not find that Morant had the gun with him on Memphis’ flight to Denver, or that he possessed the gun in any NBA facility.
Police in Colorado conducted their own investigation and concluded there was no reason to charge Morant with a crime after looking into the circumstances surrounding the video.
Morant said in an ESPN interview on March 15 that the gun was not his and that he takes full responsibility for his actions.
But the strip club incident wasn’t Morant’s first eyebrow-raising move. The Grizzlies had been talking with Morant about his off-court conduct even before the March 4 incident.
“I can see the image that I painted over myself with my recent mistakes,” Morant told ESPN. “But in the future, I’m going to show everybody who Ja really is, what I’m about and change this narrative that everybody got.”
Morant, whose suspension cost him $669,000 in salary and possibly a chance to max out the five-year contract he signed last July by making the All-NBA team, also has to keep working on himself away from basketball.
Morant said he underwent counseling during his suspension.
“He’d probably be the first one to tell you: ‘Nothing is going to change immediately overnight. I’m going to learn and grow, but I’m going to get the skills and methods to do that both personally and professionally,’” Jenkins said.
On the court, the Grizzlies are pleased with the growth of the 23-year-old Morant. After Memphis selected him with the No. 2 draft pick in 2019, he was named the 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year and last year earned Kia Most Improved Player honors.
He still ranks ninth in the league averaging 27.1 points and has six triple-doubles this season.
He rejoins a Memphis team in the middle of a competitive postseason race. The Grizzlies, who were second in the Western Conference before the March 4 incident, are tied with Sacramento — four games back of West-leading Denver with 12 games remaining.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.