Memphis Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant reportedly expressed apathy after Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman and head coach Taylor Jenkins tried to discuss his conduct amid troubling incidents last season.
Last season, Morant was suspended by the team for brandishing a gun on an Instagram Live stream. After returning and playing for the team in the playoffs, Morant made the same mistake again, leading to the NBA suspending him for 25 games to open the 2023-24 season.
According to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Tim MacMahon, Kleiman and Jenkins had a conversation with Morant in a hotel room in February of 2023. Expected to be a leader and the face of the franchise, Morant was not conducting himself in a manner in which the team wanted.
“Inside the hotel room, the two men tried to convey to Morant how his conduct had become a major concern, how it had impacted the team he was supposed to lead,” Holmes and MacMahon wrote. “Facing the then-23-year-old, their message, said one team insider, was simple:
“You’re f—— up.
“Grizzlies’ brass believed there had been more than enough incidents already to warrant such a meeting and such a message.”
According to Holmes and MacMahon, some in Memphis began to see a change in Morant’s character after he signed a five-year, $194 million deal after the 2021-22 season.
Morant had just been named the league’s Most Improved Player, and he was an All-Star in the 2021-22 season. However, the Grizzlies guard’s behavior started to change.
That led to the incidents that landed Morant in trouble with the team and league in the 2022-23 season.
Morant’s off-the-court issues included an altercation with a 17-year-old at his house, and a postgame confrontation with the Indiana Pacers where the NBA’s investigation “could not corroborate” that a gun had been involved during the incident.
Despite the team warning him of the consequences of these off-court issues, it didn’t seem to change Morant’s behavior.
“The message just wasn’t getting through,” said a former NBA player who said he’s also tried to talk to Morant on several occasions. “He just wasn’t in a place to hear anything.”
Kleiman and Jenkins were looking to get their star player back on track, especially since it appeared that Morant’s change in behavior had become a pattern and not a one-time incident.
However, the star guard did not seem to be concerned with their message.
“Back inside that hotel room, the pleasantries were over,” Holmes and MacMahon wrote. ‘“Sometimes you have to have hard conversations,’ said another team source.
“Morant looked at Kleiman and Jenkins and expressed disinterest — then apathy.
“The meeting ended as uncomfortably as it began, a superstar unwilling to acknowledge conduct his employer had spent years attempting to manage.”
Morant’s agent – Jim Tanner – denied the allegations that the Grizzlies star had been dismissive towards the team’s effort to help him get back on track in a statement to ESPN.
“As everyone is aware, Ja and the Grizzlies have had several meetings throughout this year,” Tanner wrote. “In each of these meetings the Grizzlies have been clear with their expectations while being supportive of Ja’s efforts to work on himself on and off the court. … It is grossly inaccurate to say that Ja’s response to any meetings with the Grizzlies has ever been dismissive.”
There was concern within the Grizzlies organization, according to ESPN, that the issues with Morant would worsen.
That came to fruition when Morant was on Instagram Live with a handgun following the team’s loss to the Denver Nuggets on Match 3.
“When you have a superstar, you make a deal with the devil,” said a team source. “You sign up for them, and everything that comes with them.”
Following the incident, Morant deactivated his social media accounts and took responsibility for his actions in a statement.
However, Morant made the same mistake again on May 13, as he appeared to be holding a gun while in a car with one of his friends.
The mistake landed the Grizzlies star a 25-game suspension, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Morant’s actions “alarming and disconcerting.”
Even Kleiman believed that Morant’s suspension was appropriate for his actions.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter until he follows through,” Kleiman said then. “I couldn’t care less about words. Ja has to prove it.”
While Morant is a great player, the Grizzlies clearly have to find a way to reel in his behavior if they want the team – and Morant – to be successful for the long term. Last season, despite all the drama, Morant averaged 26.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game across 61 contests.
With the Grizzlies forced to start the 2023-24 season without their All-Star guard, the team will be facing a bit of an uphill battle to make the playoffs. Hopefully, when Morant returns to the lineup, he will be in a better space than he was during last season.