MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Being suspended for the first 25 games of the NBA season was tough on two-time All-Star Ja Morant, who said Friday he had “some horrible days” as he worked to focus on himself away from basketball.
The Memphis Grizzlies point guard wouldn’t say he regrets being suspended by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for the second time in the span of four months.
“In the end, I feel like it made me better,” Morant said. ”I feel like I learned some stuff about myself that I did during that process. Very eye-opening. It kind of gave me a new look on life. How I go about my days. How I carry myself.”
Morant’s suspension ends on Tuesday, when he’ll be available to play for the Grizzlies in New Orleans on the second night of a back-to-back road swing. Morant said he’s been counting down the days until his return and is just grateful and thankful to still be here.
The No. 2 pick overall in the 2020 draft, 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year and 2022 Most Improved Player has been suspended for a combined 33 games since he first was caught flashing a gun on a social media livestream March 4.
Morant first told reporters after the Los Angeles Lakers ousted Memphis from the playoffs in April that he had to make better decisions, knowing off-the-court issues affected the Grizzlies’ season. A team that earned a second straight No. 2 seed in the Western Conference lasted just six games in the postseason.
Only two weeks later, Morant was singing with friends when caught holding up a handgun during a livestream video. Silver weighed the situation and announced the second suspension along with other steps for Morant to take.
That included talking weekly with the NBA office and the NBA Players Association.
Morant also talked personally with Silver this week, a conversation he called good and a check-in by the commissioner on how he is doing.
The guard also knows that simply talking about being a better leader for Memphis won’t be enough.
“I can’t, you know, make nobody believe me outside of my actions,” Morant said. “So me answering this question with just words probably won’t mean nothing to nobody.”
Morant has a home in Tennessee, where Republican leaders have repeatedly worked to relax state gun laws, including in 2001 when they allowed most adults 21 and older to carry handguns without first obtaining a permit. A federal judge has since cleared the way to drop that minimum age to 18.
But Morant is the Grizzlies’ biggest star and one of the NBA’s top young talents. Silver has made it very clear Morant must meet a higher standard to play in this league.
The point guard who shows no fear on the court when driving to the basket was not asked Friday if he still has any guns.
Morant said basketball has been his therapy throughout his life and that taking the game away made things tougher. He credited his family, the Grizzlies and others, including therapy, for helping him since Silver handed down Morant’s second suspension in mid-June.
“The change will be that my decision-making and how I go about my daily life … being the best Ja I can be,” Morant said.
He smiled and joked with teammates at Friday morning’s shootaround, pointing out when one of his shots would’ve gone in if not for someone else’s ball knocking his attempt away from the bucket.
Under the terms of his suspension, Morant has been able to practice and travel with the Grizzlies and take part in morning shootarounds. But then he has had to leave, unable to be at the arena while Memphis plays.
That has left him being a cheerleader on social media in the only role available to him the first 25 games.
Morant rejoins a very different Memphis squad than the one he last took the court with in April.
These Grizzlies have been decimated by injuries and are among the NBA’s worst with a record ahead of only Washington, San Antonio and Detroit. A league-best 35-6 at home last season, Memphis was the NBA’s last to win on its own court this season.
Only Jaren Jackson Jr. and David Roddy Jr. have played every game. Jackson, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and Desmond Bane have been trying to carry Memphis during Morant’s suspension.
Morant’s first game back will be against Zion Williamson, the player taken No. 1 overall in 2020 before Memphis took the guard. Morant said he will start by trying to do whatever he can to help the Grizzlies win.
“I’m not forcing a historic game my first game back,” Morant said.
Just being back in an NBA game will be his latest big step.
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