Memphis Grizzlies star forward Jaren Jackson Jr. didn’t sugarcoat his thoughts about his team’s reality in the wake of Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension.
The Grizzlies will play their first 25 games of the 2023-24 season without their All-Star point guard, who will serve his suspension without pay for “conduct detrimental to the league” after he posed with a firearm in a car during an Instagram live-streamed video in May.
“We just gotta navigate it,” Jackson told Tim Bontemps of ESPN ahead of Team USA’s exhibition Monday vs. Puerto Rico with the FIBA World Cup on tap. “Obviously, we know that not having Ja is a real big hole to fill, but, you know, he’s not, it’s not like he’s not gonna be around.
“He’s gonna give us all the tools to be able to get that done.”
Morant, who will turn 24 on Aug. 10, is ineligible to participate in any public league or team activities, including preseason games, during the course of his suspension, the NBA announced in June.
He also is required to meet certain conditions before being reinstated.
It came less than two months after NBA commissioner Adam Silver handed Morant an eight-game suspension for brandishing a weapon on social media while at a Denver-area nightclub.
Morant issued a statement after Silver announced his second suspension, and expressed confidence in his team.
“I’ve had time to reflect and realize how much hurt I’ve caused,” he said at the time. “I want to apologize to the NBA, the Grizzlies, my teammates and the city of Memphis.
“… I’m spending the offseason and my suspension continuing to work on my own mental health and decision making. I’m also going to be training so that I’m ready to go when I can be back on the court.
“I know my teammates are going to hold it down and I’m so sorry I won’t be out there with you at the beginning of the season. I hope you’ll give me the chance to prove to you over time I’m a better man than what I’ve been showing you.”
The Grizzlies said in a separate statement: “We respect the league’s decision to suspend Ja Morant following this latest episode. Our standards as a league and team are clear, and we expect that all team personnel will adhere to them.”
Memphis was 16-9 through its first 25 games last season.
The Grizzlies are expected to start Marcus Smart at point guard after the acquiring him from the Boston Celtics in a blockbuster three-team trade with the Washington Wizards in June.
As part of the deal, Memphis traded guard Tyus Jones to Washington — and traded the draft rights to guard Marcus Sasser (25th overall) and a future first-round draft pick to the Celtics.
Morant signed five-year rookie maximum extension with the Grizzlies, worth up to $231 million, last year — and is due to make around $33.5 million this season.
Now, Morant stands to lose more than $300,000 per game during this suspension — or approximately $7.5 million — according to NBA.com.
The two-time All-Star averaged 26.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 8.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 61 games in 2022-23.
Morant was named the 2020 Kia Rookie of the Year after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.