The Memphis Grizzlies are "hopeful" that star guard Ja Morant will return to action on Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets. Morant is now eligible to return to play after his suspension, but he is going through a return-to-play conditioning program after missing so much time.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters before the team's game on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks that Morant has been scrimmaging and also addressed the team. "The reception was great," Jenkins said. "Everyone welcomed him with open arms, excited to have him back.
Morant was officially suspended eight games without pay for conduct detrimental to the league, the NBA announced on March 15. The suspension stems from an Instagram Live video Morant posted in which he had a gun at a Denver-area nightclub following a game against the Nuggets on March 3.
The suspension included the five games that he missed while away from the team. During that time, he spent multiple days at a counseling center in Florida. Morant met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on March 15.
"Ja's conduct was irresponsible, reckless, and potentially very dangerous," Silver said in the statement. "It also has serious consequences given his enormous following and influence, particularly among young fans who look up to him. He has expressed sincere contrition and remorse for his behavior. Ja has also made it clear to me that he has learned from this incident and that he understands his obligations and responsibility to the Memphis Grizzlies and the broader NBA community extend well beyond his play on the court."
Morant has been involved in a number of off-court controversies in the past year or so, including:
- Allegedly punching a teenager "12 or 13 times" according to a Washington Post report. Morant claimed he was acting in self-defense. The teenager alleged that Morant had a gun tucked into his pants.
- A mall security guard said that he was threatened by Morant and a number of his associates after his mother reportedly got into an argument with an employee at a store. No arrests were made as a result of this incident.
- In February, the NBA confirmed that it had investigated a situation that took place in Memphis on Jan. 29 after a game against the Indiana Pacers. Members of Indiana's traveling party claimed that a red laser was shined on them from an SUV carrying Morant. They believed it came from a gun, but the NBA could "not corroborate that any individual threatened others with a weapon."
"I'm sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire organization for letting you down," Morant wrote in a statement after the video went up. "I'm going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being."
The Grizzlies lost their first two games without Morant, but are 5-1 since then. They are currently locked in a battle with the Sacramento Kings for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The teams have identical 43-27 records, but the Kings have the tiebreaker. With the Denver Nuggets in the middle of a slump, there is a slim chance either Sacramento or Memphis could claim the top spot, but most likely, they will be the second and third seeds.