LOS ANGELES — A Memphis Grizzlies season marred by several controversies involving the face of the franchise finished much earlier than expected and in embarrassing fashion Friday night when the Grizzlies were eliminated in a first-round series that ended with a 125-85 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6.
After the most lopsided postseason loss in franchise history, All-Star point guard Ja Morant took accountability for the Western Conference No. 2-seeded Grizzlies’ disappointing season, acknowledging that his off-court issues negatively impacted the team.
“I’ve just got to be better with my decision-making,” Morant, who finished with 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting in the blowout defeat said. “That’s pretty much it. Off-the-court issues affected us as an organization pretty much. Just need more discipline.”
Morant, 23, served an eight-game suspension due to conduct detrimental to the league in March after he displayed a handgun during an early morning Instagram Live session from a Denver-area strip club. In a statement announcing the suspension, NBA commissioner Adam Silver admonished Morant for acting in a manner that was “irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous.”
The NBA also investigated allegations by the Indiana Pacers stemming from a postgame confrontation with Morant’s associates after the Grizzlies’ home win Jan. 29. Members of the Pacers’ traveling party said that a red laser, which they believed to be from a gun, was pointed at them from an SUV in which Morant was riding. The NBA released a statement confirming that there was a confrontation but that the league “could not corroborate that any individual threatened others with a weapon.”
Davonte Pack, Morant’s childhood best friend who stepped onto the court during the game while arguing with Indiana players, was banned from FedExForum for a year.
There were also reports during the season about two incidents from the summer that were investigated by Memphis police: Allegations of Morant and Pack assaulting a high school boy during a pickup game in Morant’s backyard and a confrontation in which a mall security guard told police he felt threatened when Morant and several other men arrived after his mother felt disrespected by a shoe store employee.
Asked what he will learn from this season, Morant again mentioned his pattern of poor decisions away from the game.
“I feel like mine is more off the court and on the court — just being disciplined both sides,” Morant said. “Off the court, making better decisions. On the court, being locked in even more. Being a leader of this team, it pretty much starts with me. So however I attack any situation, I know my guys will follow. I’ve just got to be better in that area.”
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said he would not “use distractions or anything like that as an excuse,” but he referred to the early playoff exit as a “pivotal” moment for the Grizzlies, particularly their young core of Morant, power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and shooting guard Desmond Bane.
“I think we have a great culture, and your culture’s going to get tested,” Jenkins said. “I mean, there’s going to be opportunities that are going to see how strong you are, how together you are, how resilient you are, how disciplined you are. And then are you really building something day in and day out to ultimately try to win a championship. It doesn’t happen overnight. Nothing is going to be a straight line.
“In my opinion, this is probably that moment in time that’s going to be the ultimate wake-up call. Are we going to really understand that it’s the preparation and the offseason, the preparation in the season? It’s what you do at work, off the court — clearly, there are things that we’ve got to control and just embrace it together. How are we going to support each other throughout all this stuff? This is a journey that you go through from the start of the season to the end of the season, and it’s not supposed to be easy, any of it. So are we going to take it lightly and take it for granted or we going to take a real hard look at the mirror?”
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