MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Former NBA MVP Derrick Rose and 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart made clear Monday they’re no babysitters for new teammate Ja Morant.
Their goals involve helping the Memphis Grizzlies win now and push Morant when the two-time All-Star returns to the court Dec. 19 from his 25-game suspension.
“I care for him as a human and as a teammate,” Smart said Monday at the Grizzlies’ media day. “And I want to see him succeed because if he’s not succeeding, I tell you one thing. This team’s not going to succeed. And we know that. And I think everybody in the NBA world knows that.”
Rose, who played his lone college season at Memphis, said he reached out to both Morant and the guard’s father during the offseason. Rose said he hopes Morant has learned patience and discipline.
“That’s the biggest thing with any young man, about a real man,” Rose said. “Being able to make the adjustment, to have discipline to remind yourself or be mindful of the places you’re at, who you’re with, and your actions.”
The Grizzlies confirmed Monday at media day that Morant will be able to travel with the the team, practice with his teammates and even take part in shootarounds throughout his 25-game suspension to start the NBA season.
Then the Grizzlies believe Morant will have to leave arenas a few hours before tipoff under the terms that the NBA is allowing the dazzling guard to work under throughout his suspension.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Morant’s second suspension in June, making clear the guard must stop his “alarming” habit of flashing guns on social media. The suspension came a month after a second video of Morant flashing a handgun was streamed online.
Zach Kleiman, the Grizzlies’ president of basketball operations and general manager, said the approach is great for both Morant and the Grizzlies. The key will be Morant continuing to “stay on track,” according to Kleiman.
“There’s steps that I think Ja is continuing to take that are really positive and in the right direction,” Kleiman said. “It’s great to have him here. I think he’s put himself in a position where there’s no reason why he can’t keep following through on this. So we’re glad he’s here and can’t wait to have him back.”
Morant didn’t talk Monday. Kleiman called the suspension “appropriate” after the NBA draft and challenged the guard to change the behavior that led to two bans in four months for the No. 2 overall pick in 2019 and the 2020 Rookie of the Year.
Coach Taylor Jenkins said it was great learning exactly what Morant will be allowed to do during this latest suspension. He has talked with Morant about this being an opportunity to invest in his own well-being on and off the court.
The Grizzlies have a plan designed to challenge Morant to be his best version. He missed key playoff games each of the past two postseasons with injuries. The second-seeded Grizzlies lost in the second round in 2022 and were upset by LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round in April.
Jenkins said the goal is to help Morant make a seamless transition Dec. 19 when the guard makes his season debut in New Orleans.
“I’m just glad we finally got that decision,” Jenkins said.
Smart is expected to have the first crack at point guard to start the season.
Rose, the first overall draft pick in 2008 and the 2011 MVP, also is determined to prove he has a lot left after playing just 27 games for the New York Knicks. Rose said he’s been humbled by injuries but feels healthy now. His game may resemble Morant’s fearless, fast and attacking style the closest.
But Rose made clear that Morant is on a “whole other level.” He’s ready to push Morant on the court and help calm the guard down when he’s playing recklessly.
The Grizzlies earned the No. 2 seed for the 2021-22 season with Morant missing 25 games because of injuries, and they went 20-5 without him. He played 61 games last season. So they’re used to playing without the No. 2 overall draft pick of 2019 and the 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year.
All-Star forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who played for Team USA this summer at the FIBA World Cup, said being able to have Morant around so much is huge.
“He’s been out before with like injuries, and he was always great with it,” Jackson said. “He’s a pro about it, he’s a professional. He’s always supporting us and still giving insight.”
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