The Washington Post

With Morant sidelined, a once-promising Grizzlies season teeters


The Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the steadiest winners in a topsy-turvy Western Conference, but their sense of stability was shaken by Ja Morant’s decision to flash a gun on an Instagram Live video stream early Saturday morning.

Morant’s video, which came just days after a Washington Post report disclosed details from two police reports that included accusation­s of assault and threatenin­g language by the 23-year-old star, prompted the NBA to open an investigat­ion. After the Grizzlies announced Saturday that Morant would be away from the team for at least two games, the two-time all-star issued an apology, taking “full responsibi­lity” for his actions on the video and saying he planned to “take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”

When Morant will return to lead Memphis, which entered Monday’s action as the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, remains unclear, and a prolonged absence could complicate the team’s postseason path. Grizzlies Coach Taylor Jenkins said Sunday that Morant “has been fully compliant” with the NBA’S investigat­ion, which could yield a fine or a suspension once it concludes. In the meantime, Jenkins, who called the video a “very, very tough moment,” said the Grizzlies made the internal decision to sideline Morant indefinite­ly.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” he said. “This is going to be an ongoing healing process. I can’t comment in terms of what the exact timetable is going to be because this is really not a timetable situation. [Morant] understand­s he made some difficult decisions and poor choices in the past that he’s got to account for. He’s got to get help to get into a better place, not just for himself but also for his team. He’s definitely embracing the mistakes that he’s made. Only time will tell. We’re going to support him and hold him accountabl­e.”

In an ominous developmen­t, the Grizzlies collapsed in their first game without Morant, conceding a 24-2 run in the fourth quarter of a 135-129 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. Morant leads the Grizzlies in points and assists, and he is their lead playmaker, particular­ly in late-game situations. His absence loomed even larger Sunday because center Steven Adams is sidelined with a knee injury, forward Brandon Clarke suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury Friday and forward Dillon Brooks served a one-game

suspension for accruing too many technical fouls.

“Big shoes to fill,” forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said. “I’m happy for whatever [Morant] decides to do. I trust his judgment. He’s doing what’s best for him. He’s going to come back and take over the league. . . . When he comes back, he’s just going to be in the same groove. It really doesn’t end up mattering.”

Tyus Jones has establishe­d himself as one of the NBA’S best backup point guards, and he has generally thrived when asked to serve as a stand-in starter for Morant. Memphis went 20-5 last year without Morant, though it fell to 4- 6 in his absence this season with Sunday’s loss. Jones’s distributi­on-minded style will require Desmond Bane, Brooks and Jackson to fill in the gaps, and all three are capable scorers. The Grizzlies also will hope their West-leading defense can help them weather any newfound offensive droughts.

“I view myself as a starter,” said Jones, who had 25 points and 12 assists Sunday. “I’m most definitely ready for the opportunit­y. . . . I’m confident that the team will move forward and that we’ll continue to stay together, rally together. We still have a job to do. We’re still striving to improve as a team. We still have goals we’re trying to reach.”

Neverthele­ss, Memphis’s season could easily go sideways. The Grizzlies (38-25) have held the West’s No. 2 seed since Jan. 1, but their lead over the Sacramento Kings (37-26 entering Monday) had narrowed to one game. To make matters

worse, the scorching Phoenix Suns (36-29) are only three games back after acquiring Kevin Durant at the trade deadline. The Grizzlies will face West opponents with playoff aspiration­s in six of their next eight games, and a March swoon could set up a much more challengin­g April.

As the No. 2 seed, the Grizzlies would get a rest advantage before a first-round matchup with the winner of a play-in game. If they were to slip to the No. 4 seed behind the Kings and Suns, the Grizzlies could open the postseason with a rematch against the Golden State Warriors (34-31). Stephen Curry

and the eventual champions eliminated Memphis in six games in last year’s conference semifinals, and the Curry-less Warriors embarrasse­d the Grizzlies in a Christmas blowout.

Jenkins didn’t directly answer questions about the team’s handling of Morant’s alleged behavior as detailed in the police reports, but he said the organizati­on’s decision-makers have had conversati­ons about “where we can get better.” The 38-year-old coach added that the Grizzlies take gun violence “very seriously,” referring to this episode as a “growth opportunit­y” for Morant.

“We love [Morant],” Jenkins said. “We want what’s best for him. We support him. It’s going to be a difficult process. We’ve got a great group to get through this. . . . He’s got the ultimate care factor. He’s got an unbelievab­le heart. These are tough times for him, tough times for the organizati­on, but you’ve got to really peel back and understand the person he is. He’s a generally amazing person, family person. He’s a father, brother, son and member of our community. This is a tough time for a young kid that’s got to grow and get better. He’s got huge responsibi­lities — not just for the team but the city.”

 ?? BRANDON DILL/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Grizzlies Coach Taylor Jenkins said there is no timetable for guard Ja Morant to return to the team.
BRANDON DILL/ASSOCIATED PRESS Grizzlies Coach Taylor Jenkins said there is no timetable for guard Ja Morant to return to the team.

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