As Ja Morant prepares to return from a suspension issued after he flashed a handgun at a nightclub in a social media video, the Memphis Grizzles star said he is “in a better space mentally” and is committed to being a “better me” following a stint at a Florida counseling center.
The 23-year-old guard, who hasn’t played since the March 4 incident at a Denver-area club, could return as soon as Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, though he remained noncommittal during a brief interview with media members Tuesday in Memphis. Morant attended Memphis’s 112-108 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, sitting on the bench and receiving cheers from the FedEx Forum crowd. Grizzlies Coach Taylor Jenkins said Tuesday that he expects Morant to return against the Rockets.
“I’m going to always be Ja,” Morant said Tuesday. “I won’t change for anybody. The only problem with me right now is getting into a space mentally that I’m very comfortable in. That’s why I made the decision to take the time away and go to counseling. That helped me learn a lot of things.”
The NBA suspended Morant for eight games last week, clearing the way for his return this week. Commissioner Adam Silver deemed Morant’s conduct in the video to be “irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous.”
Morant told reporters that he made the decision to seek counseling to better manage his stress and that he felt his “stress level had been becoming a problem” before the nightclub incident.
“I had considered [seeking help], but I was back and forth,” he said. “I was pretty much afraid to leave the team. I felt that it was needed, and it helped me out a lot.”
Morant added that his stress management work was an “ongoing process” and that undergoing less than two weeks of counseling “doesn’t mean I’m completely better.”
Though the NBA’s investigation determined Morant was “holding a firearm in an intoxicated state” while at the nightclub, Morant said the counseling he received wasn’t related to alcohol abuse.
“I don’t got an alcohol problem,” he said. “I never had an alcohol problem. I didn’t go there for [help with] alcohol. I went there for counseling, to learn how to manage stress, cope with stress in a positive way, instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.”
The fourth-year guard, who is averaging a team-high 27.1 points and 8.2 assists, will rejoin the Grizzlies in the middle of a playoff push. Memphis enters Tuesday’s action as the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed with a 44-27 record as it looks to build on last year’s trip to the conference semifinals.
“My focus is keeping the main thing the main thing,” Morant said, adding that he planned to maintain a lower profile on social media. “Clubbing and all this is not on my mind right now.”
Morant’s video, which he broadcast live on Instagram, came on the heels of a Washington Post report that detailed two incidents last year in which Morant and his friends were accused of violent and threatening behavior, including an allegation that Morant flashed a gun at a teenager after a fight at the NBA star’s Memphis home.
Earlier this year, the Athletic reported that members of the Indiana Pacers organization believed someone riding in a vehicle with Morant had trained a gun on them after a game, saying they saw a laser beam coming out of the car. The NBA looked into the incident and said its investigation “did not corroborate that any individual threatened others with a weapon.”
“I made mistakes in the past that caused a lot of negative attention, not only to me but my family as well, my team, the organization,” Morant said. “I’m completely sorry for that. My job now is to be more responsible, more smarter, and don’t cause any of that no more.”
Pressed for details about his role in the incidents that occurred before the March 4 video, Morant said he didn’t “condone any type of violence” and hadn’t done anything wrong but declined to elaborate.
“All those cases is sealed, so I can’t speak on those cases,” he said. “When I have my time to, everybody will know the actual truth in any incident I’ve been in.”