MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis star guard Ja Morant says he obviously made a terrible decision and many mistakes.
The two-time All-Star apologized again Tuesday.
“I’m completely sorry for that,” Morant said after practice, speaking publicly for the first time since concluding his eight-game suspension by the NBA. “So, you know, my job now is, like I said, to be more responsible, more smarter, and don’t cause any of that no more.”
The next question is when Morant is back on the floor for the Grizzlies. Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said he anticipates Morant playing in the Grizzlies next game — Wednesday night against Houston. Morant said his status is “still in the air.”
“Once I feel like I’m back in rhythm and in good condition to go back out there, I’ll be back out there,” Morant said.
The NBA suspended Morant eight games for brandishing a gun in a social media video post at a Denver-area strip club on March 4. The eighth game was Saturday’s win over the Golden State Warriors.
Morant had been in counseling at a Florida facility while he served his suspension.
With an unusual number of reporters surrounding him Tuesday and microphones near his face, the 6-foot-3 guard said he “never had an alcohol problem.” He also plans to abandon social media and let his actions speak for him.
Asked if two weeks was enough to clear up his problems, Morant replied it is an “ongoing process.”
“I went there to counseling to learn how to manage stress,” Morant said. “Cope with stress in a positive way, instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.”
Morant, who signed a five-year supermax contract with Memphis last summer, said he’s focused on growing as a leader as his stardom rises and he continues to garner business deals such as his own Ja1 shoe for Nike.
He was on the bench in street clothes Monday night when Memphis beat Dallas 112-108 with the Grizzlies giving him time to condition himself after two weeks away.
During his absence, Memphis went 6-3 and returned to the second spot in the Western Conference just 3 1/2 games behind Denver.
Forward Dillon Brooks said Morant — seeing how the team has played recently — offered to come off the bench when he returns.
Brooks vehemently rejected that suggestion.
“I said; ‘Hell, no.’ You’re too good of a player,” Brooks said of the conversation. “You’re the engine of this team, and I’m going to need you out there getting reps and getting acclimated to who you are as that third quarter, fourth quarter closer.”
That’s the consensus in the Memphis locker room, including Tyus Jones, who replaced Morant at point guard. They don’t see the Grizzlies’ leading scorer needing to do anything to win back the trust of his teammates. Morant ranks ninth in the NBA still averaging 27.1 points per game.
“We’re looking forward to getting him back on the court, not necessarily putting the past behind us, but learning from the past and continuing to improve moving forward — for him, for this team,” Jones said.
When Morant came to the Grizzlies bench just before the tipoff of Monday’s game, the Memphis faithful gave him a standing ovation, a cheer that built as fans recognized him emerging from the tunnel from the locker room. Brooks said that shows what Morant means to the team and the city.
“He’s the one who really put this city on the map,” Brooks said. “We were a low-market team just roaming around the NBA. Now, we’re one of the most talked-about teams in the NBA. We have a pride and a chip on our shoulder every single game.
“He doesn’t have to prove nothing to us.”