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Ja Morant Makes Highly Anticipated Return to Court for the Grizzlies

NEW ORLEANS — Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension stemming from his social media antics with handguns ended Tuesday, and coach Taylor Jenkins inserted the two-time All-Star back into the starting lineup against the New Orleans Pelicans.

“We get one of our leaders back, one of our core players. The team’s fired up. I’m fired up,” Jenkins said. “He’s put in a lot of work since the start of the season, been around the team as much as he could.

“Super excited to see him go out there and just have fun. That’s what he and I have talked about,” Jenkins added. “Build chemistry with your teammates and just enjoy this opportunity to be back out on the floor.”

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James showed his support ahead of Morant’s expected return by posting on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, “Welcome back!! Go be GREAT again!!” He addressed it to No. 12, Morant’s jersey.

Under the terms of his suspension, Morant was able to practice and travel with the Grizzlies and take part in morning shootarounds. But he was not permitted to be in an arena with his team during games.

Jenkins didn’t put a specific cap on Morant’s playing time in his first few games back, but said, “he’s not going to play crazy minutes.”

“I’m going to be mindful of how many minutes he plays early on as he gets his game legs underneath him,” Jenkins said, adding that he just wants Morant to use his time on the court to focus on making “winning plays,” and “have fun doing that.”

Jenkins said the two-time NBA All-Star increasingly has been involved in practices during the past couple weeks. Morant also has been video-chatting with teammates during games.

Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on while playing the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on December 19, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Chris Graythen/Getty Images/AFP

“I’ve been really proud of his commitment every single day with the amount of work that he’s been putting in because it’s been a unique two-and-a-half months where he got to really dive into his overall just well-being on and off the floor.

“Once training camp started he was super committed,” Jenkins added. “Obviously now you feel a different buzz about him because now he’s going to be playing in games and he’s been waiting for this — his teammates have been waiting for this — for a really long time. But I see the same Ja, a guy that’s fully committed, loves the game of basketball, loves being around his teammates and is excited for this opportunity.”

Morant, who spoke with reporters for the first time this season on Friday, has said he’s been counting down the days until his return and he is thankful to still be in the league and rejoining his team.

The No. 2 pick overall in the 2019 draft, 2020 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 on 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. NBA Commissioner Adam 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 National Basketball Players Association.

Morant rejoins a very different Memphis squad from the one he last took the court with in April.

These Grizzlies have been deci… of 2454 characters. Subscribe now to see the full article.