Playing against Sacramento, Ja Morant makes his signature crossover move. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/TSD Archives)
Terry Davis

Technically still a rookie, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant has shown from the start of his NBA career that the role of a seasoned veteran is one that fits him comfortably. He showed that once again this week during the first media availability since the season was forced into shutdown-mode by the coronavirus.

With his characteristic confidence, the budding-star point guard said he is looking forward to getting back to playing basketball and helping the team finish the pandemic-shortened season strong.

“We have been motivated by the doubters all season” said Morant, having heard the chorus of naysayers that does not think the Grizzlies will make the playoffs under the format recently released by the NBA.

“We will continue to play our game and play together to come out with some wins.”

The national health emergency that has disrupted the course of sports continues on amid the public and private push for changes regarding police-community relations and social equity on multiple levels. During the unforeseen NBA break, Morant in several instances used his social-media platform to add his voice, weighing in on a range issues, including removing Confederate monuments and the protests relating to Black Lives Matter.

“I feel like it is important,” Morant said at his media session. “I also encourage other athletes that have the same platform to speak out.  No one should be silent right now.  We need change.”

The nearly four-month break has afforded Morant the opportunity to spend more time with his family. The NBA will not allow family as it finishes the regular season, which means Morant will miss celebrating his daughter’s birthday.

Nearly 12 pounds heavier, Morant worked to stay in in shape, putting in time in the weight room despite not knowing if the season would resume.

Paramount for him during the rest of the season is winning, which he made perfectly clear in response to a question about things remaining on his to-do list.

Morant said the format in Orlando – and how the games will be played – will have an AAU tournament feel to it, a factor he has talked about with Jaren Jackson Jr., another of Memphis’ evolving star players.

As Memphis’ starting point guard, Morant will be pivotal to the Grizzlies finding a post-break groove that leads to the NBA Playoffs. That includes blending newcomer Justin Winslow into the mix, incorporating him and players who were injured when the season paused in mid-March. Per league rules, the team is not allowed to have five-on-five practice until Orlando.

While not allowed to play together, Morant and his teammates have been staying in touch. The goal has been to maintain the chemistry that developed on the court, nurture it during the off-court break and roll with strong into the playoffs.