NBA: Morant vows ‘smarter’ approach after returning to practice

Ja Morant walks off the court as a spectator after the game against the Dallas Mavericks at FedExForum. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES – Ja Morant said on Tuesday that he is learning to be a more responsible and smarter version of himself as he returned to practice with Memphis Grizzlies for the first time since his suspension.

The Grizzlies guard has not played since posting a video of himself in a Colorado strip club brandishing a firearm on March 4.

He was subsequently hit with an eight-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the National Basketball Association (NBA) but is now free to return to play, possibly as soon as Wednesday against the Houston Rockets at the FedExForum.

Morant, 23, said that he was still undergoing therapy to help manage stress, describing treatment received in Florida as “an ongoing process”.

“Obviously, I’ve been there for two weeks, but that doesn’t mean I’m completely better,” he said.

“So that’s an ongoing process for me that I’ve still been continuing since I’ve come out.”

While the NBA said Morant had been in an “intoxicated” state in the video posted online, the Grizzlies star said he does not have an issue when it comes to alcohol.

“Never had an alcohol problem,” he insisted.

“I went for counselling 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.”

Morant added that he regretted the fact that the furore had overshadowed Memphis’ season in the past month.

“I’ve made mistakes in the past that cause a lot of negative attention – not only to me, but my family as well, my team, the organisation. I’m completely sorry for that,” he said.

“My job now is to be more responsible, smarter and don’t cause any of that no more.

“Right now, for me, it’s just continuing to go through my process of becoming a better me. I feel like if I do that, not only will it help me, but it’ll help everybody around me as well.”

The Grizzlies (44-27) are second in the Western Conference, behind the Denver Nuggets (48-24), with 11 games remaining in the regular season.

The timing of Morant’s return is ideal.

Memphis are in the midst of playing seven of eight games at home and the guard was leading the team in scoring (27.1 points per game) and assists (8.2 per game).

“Obviously, super excited to be back with my teammates. That’s the main thing right now,” he added.

The Grizzlies will remain short-handed against the Rockets despite Morant joining the rotation.

Swingman Dillon Brooks was assessed his 18th technical of the season on Monday in their win over the Dallas Mavericks and earned his second suspension of the campaign. He was penalised for taunting the Mavericks’ bench.

The Rockets, 0-2 against the Grizzlies this season, are bottom of the Western Conference with an 18-54 record. AFP, REUTERS

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