Ja Morant

Western Notes: MPJ, Alexander-Walker, Wemby, Morant, A. Holiday

With Aaron Gordon unavailable for the Nuggets‘ past three games due to a right heel injury, Michael Porter Jr. has seen more action at power forward and said the transition has been a smooth one, per Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette (Twitter links).

“It’s easier for me, I think, at the four. It’s more of a matchup for me,” Porter explained. “Those bigger guys guarding me, they don’t want to chase around screens. They don’t want to close out all the way. I can get by them easier. So, it’s fun playing the four. It’s fine playing the three, too, but it hasn’t been too much of an adjustment, because our offense is very fluid.”

Porter scored a season-high 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting in Denver’s victory over Houston on Wednesday. It remains to be seen which position he’ll spend the most time at on Friday, as Gordon is listed as questionable for the Nuggets’ contest in Phoenix.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker didn’t have much of a role for the rebuilding Jazz last season, but after a trade to Minnesota, he’s playing key minutes for a contending Timberwolves team, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Alexander-Walker had his best game of the season in a win over his former team on Thursday, racking up 20 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and five steals in 36 minutes.
  • Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama has been on a tear lately, averaging 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and 2.5 steals per night in his past four games. However, all four of those games were losses. The Spurs know they need more production out of other players on the roster to help the young phenom, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required).
  • Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has been subpoenaed to testify next month in an ongoing civil case related to an incident that occurred during a pickup game at his house during the summer of 2022. Lucas Finton of The Memphis Commercial Appeal has the details.
  • Speaking to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Rockets guard Aaron Holiday discussed a handful of topics, including his new role as a locker room leader, his early impressions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks as teammates, Alperen Sengun‘s development, and whether he and brothers Jrue Holiday and Justin Holiday have talked about playing on the same team. “Yeah, but everything has to work out perfectly for that to happen,” Aaron said of his teaming up with his brothers. “It would be tough for that to happen, but obviously we’re all for it.”

Southwest Notes: Brooks, Hawkins, Morant, Rose

Current Rockets guard Dillon Brooks felt unsupported as member of the Grizzlies during last season’s Western Conference playoffs, as detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix. Brooks was lambasted on social media following public disputes with the likes of Draymond Green and LeBron James, which ultimately paved the way for his exit from Memphis.

The Grizzlies fell to the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs last season in disappointing fashion. Brooks made comments suggesting LeBron was past his prime, calling him “old,” and then received backlash from fans and players alike. The former Oregon Duck averaged 10.5 points in that series, shooting a poor 31.2% from the field, prompting the team to let Brooks know he wouldn’t be brought back under any circumstance.

What I didn’t like about Memphis was they allowed that so they can get out of the woodwork, and then I’m the scapegoat of it all,” Brooks said. “That’s what I didn’t appreciate. And then ultimately they’ll come to me on the low, as men, one on one and tell me something, but then not defend me when everything went down.

Brooks spent the first six seasons of his career with the Grizzlies after they selected him with the 45th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He spent 345 games there (318 as a starter) and averaged 14.5 PPG across those seasons. After the Grizzlies didn’t bring him back, he was signed-and-traded to the Rockets on a brand-new four-year, $86MM contract. Still, he wasn’t happy with the way his time in Memphis ended.

It wasn’t what I wanted,” Brooks said. “The whole season was not what I wanted. I feel like we did better when I was a focal point in that organization. They chose a different route. But I’m happy that through all the bulls–t I was able to get what I always deserved.

Now, Brooks is part of a Houston team that appreciated the defensive tenacity, grit, and veteran know-how he brings to the franchise. He’s averaging 13.7 points while hitting a career-best 53.3% of his 3.3 deep-ball attempts per game, helping the Rockets get out to a 6-3 start on the season.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans rookie Jordan Hawkins is off to a strong start to his career, writes NOLA.com’s Christian Clark. Hawkins ranks 11th in the NBA in three-pointers, is shooting 36.4% on catch-and-shoot threes and is averaging 13.7 points per game. “Don’t care if I miss a shot,” Hawkins said. “I know the next one is going in. That’s the mentality you have to have. You have to have tough skin to be a shooter. I’m going to use it now as much as I can. Me having a bad game, missing a shot, I know I can’t hang my head. I know the next one is going in. Because my team needs me.” The Pelicans selected Hawkins with the 14th overall pick in the 2023 draft.
  • A Shelby County Circuit Court judge granted Grizzlies guard Ja Morant an immunity hearing in his civil case, which stems from allegations that he punched a teenager at his home in July 2022, reports to Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Lucas Finton. Morant has not been criminally charged and his attorneys argue the altercation was in self defense. The hearing is set for Dec. 11. According to documents, during a pickup basketball game at Morant’s home, the teen threw a basketball at Morant’s head, which caused the Grizzlies guard to swing at the teen. Thursday’s ruling marks a win for Morant, according to Finton, who writes that with immunity on the table, he’s one step closer to being removed from the case.
  • Grizzlies guard Derrick Rose is expected back “very soon,” according to The Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Damichael Cole (Twitter link). Rose hasn’t played since Oct. 30 as he deals with a knee injury.

Southwest Notes: Morant, Zion, Rockets, Oladipo

Off to a 2-8 start, the Grizzlies need Ja Morant back as soon as possible, but that won’t happen for at least 15 more games, writes Beth Harris of The Associated Press. The dynamic guard is still serving out his suspension for displaying a gun twice on social media. The NBA isn’t permitting him to be in the arena when Memphis is playing, but coach Taylor Jenkins said he’s closely involved with everything else the team does.

“He’s got a great positive attitude throughout this,” Jenkins said. “I know it can be frustrating for him, the team not having him around. We understand the circumstances.”

The earliest Morant could return is a December 19 game at New Orleans, but that date isn’t definite. Commissioner Adam Silver said Morant will be required to “formulate and fulfill a program with the league that directly addresses the circumstances that led him to repeat this destructive behavior” before he can be reinstated. The details of that program haven’t been made public.

In the meantime, Morant has been working with the Grizzlies’ reserves in practice and has been “fully accepting” of his role, according to Jenkins, who hasn’t decided if Morant will start right away when his suspension is lifted.

“He’s pushing every button possible to get himself prepared, but also help this team as best as he can through his brilliant IQ, his care factor, his voice, his presence, the spirit he brings,” Jenkins said. “It’s been awesome to see him take on, I don’t want to say a leadership role, but just his investment in the group has been awesome.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • After committing six turnovers on Sunday, Zion Williamson talked about the Pelicans‘ new offense, which he claims has forced him to take a “back seat” compared to last season, per Christian Clark of NOLA. Williamson’s 21.6 points and 8.6 made field goals per game through eight contests are the lowest figures of his career. “Last year, we had a team meeting,” he said. “We brought up some things I could do better. Especially with buying into the program. It’s tough right now. I’m taking a little back seat right now. And I’m trusting the process. I’m trying my best to buy in right now.”
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone noticed a stark difference in the new-look Rockets, who edged the defending champs Sunday night to pick up their sixth straight win, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “They’re a different team,” Malone said. “Anytime you add an All-Star in Freddy VanVleet, and an All-Defense player in Dillon Brooks, a veteran in Jeff Green who helped us win a championship, a new coaching staff — obviously, (head coach Ime Udoka), his guys, have done a great job — they have a new identity, a new culture.”
  • Rockets guard Victor Oladipo has been working out at the Bayern Munich facility in Germany as he recovers from a patellar tendon injury in his left knee, reports Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews.

Bismack Biyombo Signs With Grizzlies

NOVEMBER 2: Following their fifth game of the season on Wednesday, the Grizzlies have moved Morant to the suspended list and officially signed Biyombo, the team confirmed in a press release (Twitter link).

Biyombo received a one-year, $5MM contract with a $1MM guarantee, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

OCTOBER 28: The Grizzlies will add veteran center Bismack Biyombo, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Memphis will be able to transfer Ja Morant to the suspended list after he serves five games of his 25-game suspension, and Charania suggests the signing will occur once that happens. The Grizzlies are off to an 0-3 start with upcoming games Monday against Dallas and Wednesday at Utah.

The 31-year-old Biyombo will provide an interior presence for a team playing without starting center Steven Adams, who will undergo knee surgery and miss the entire season. The Grizzlies are also missing backup center Brandon Clarke, who is still recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered in March, and have been starting Xavier Tillman in the middle.

Biyombo is a free agent after spending the past two years in Phoenix. He got into 61 games last season, making 14 starts and averaging 4.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 14.3 minutes per night. He shot 57.8% from the field, but he brings a limited shooting range and hasn’t made a three-pointer in his career.

The Lakers reportedly considered signing Biyombo this summer, but opted for Christian Wood instead.

The Grizzlies have a full roster, so they can’t add Biyombo without cutting someone else until Morant is officially on the suspended list. They still have their entire $12.4MM non-taxpayer mid-level exception remaining, plus the $4.516MM bi-annual exception, if they want to offer Biyombo more than the veteran’s minimum salary, though it seems unlikely that will be necessary.

And-Ones: Resting Stars, Flagg, Doncic, Rookie Scale Extensions

The NBA enacted a new player participation policy during the summer, but it hasn’t been effective in keeping stars on the court during the first week of the season, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Many of the league’s top players have already sat out games, either for rest purposes or minor injuries.

Vardon points to Sixers center Joel Embiid, who was nearly rested for the team’s home opener on Sunday. It was only the third game of the season, but Embiid played 35 minutes Saturday at Toronto, so coach Nick Nurse considered giving him the night off. Because it was a back-to-back situation, that wouldn’t have violated the new policy.

“There’s nothing injury-wise. We just played last night, traveled and all that stuff,” Nurse explained.

NBA executive vice president Joe Dumars has talked about wanting to re-establish the culture of an 82-game season, but Vardon notes that James HardenJimmy ButlerDevin Booker and Donovan Mitchell are among the players who have already missed games.

However, the policy is at least making teams think twice about keeping their best players out of action. Nurse admits it factored into his decision making when he opted to play Embiid on Sunday, and a source tells Vardon that the Heat checked with the league office before resting Butler in Saturday’s game.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Cooper Flagg, who is expected to be the top pick in the 2025 NBA draft, has announced that he will play college basketball at Duke, per Jeff Borzello of ESPN. The 16-year-old high school star revealed his choice in a commitment video, choosing the Blue Devils over Connecticut. Flagg opted to reclassify in August and will head to college next fall. “After I got on campus, I really started to envision myself in Durham,” Flagg said in his video. “All the love I felt made me really excited, seeing all the Crazies and the atmosphere in Cameron. I’m honored that I have the opportunity to join the Brotherhood.”
  • NBA executives chose Mavericks guard Luka Doncic as the league’s best player under 25 years old, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Doncic narrowly edged Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama for the honor, with one executive calling him “an elite offense all by himself.” Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley rounded out the top five.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report grades this year’s rookie scale extensions, which had to be finalized by last Monday, based on their benefit to both the players and their teams.

Southwest Notes: Morant, Spurs, Sochan, Pelicans, J. Green

Baxter Holmes and Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com published a lengthy investigative story this week detailing the transformation of Grizzlies guard Ja Morant from a Murray State prospect with “zero” red flags into a player whose worrisome off-court behavior led to multiple sit-downs with the team’s brass and – eventually – to suspensions of eight and 25 games.

While ESPN’s report includes several new details and quotes and is worth checking out in full, Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins rejected the idea that it created an “elephant in the room” for his club, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. According to Cole, shortly after ESPN’s article was published, Jenkins met with the team — and separately with Morant.

“I read the article, and I’m not going to comment on anonymous sources,” Jenkins said. “I’m not really going to comment on the past. I’m really just focused on the present right now — the strides he is making, positive strides, and the strides that the team is making. … I want him to know he’s got 100% support from us and his teammates.”

Morant’s teammates were equally dismissive of the ESPN report and expressed their support for the point guard, who will serve his 25-game suspension to begin the 2023/24 season. Big man Xavier Tillman called it “annoying” to have to relitigate Morant’s past behavior, while Desmond Bane said the rest of the team has “got his back.”

“People are bringing up anything they can just for people to have anything to read,” Bane said. “We ain’t worried about that. We with 12.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • The Spurs‘ starting five for the regular season will consist of Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Victor Wembanyama, and Zach Collins, head coach Gregg Popovich revealed this week (story via Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News). The 6’9″ Sochan will serve as the de facto point guard in the super-sized lineup, though he expects to share the ball-handling duties. “It doesn’t mean I have to control (the offense) or be the main ball-handler,” Sochan said. “Whoever gets the ball can push it and play with a flow instead of playing slow.”
  • Pelicans big men Larry Nance Jr. (ankle) and Cody Zeller (back) took part in contact drills in practice on Thursday, while guard Jose Alvarado (ankle) was a limited participant, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA.com. New Orleans will be without Naji Marshall and Trey Murphy when the season gets underway, so having Nance, Zeller, and Alvarado available would help bolster the club’s depth.
  • Rockets guard and former No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green sat down with Shams Charania of Stadium (Twitter video link) to discuss what he worked on during the offseason, his thoughts on the addition of free agent point guard Fred VanVleet, and his impressions of several of his new teammates, among other topics.
  • Mavericks wing Josh Green, who injured his back earlier this week, was a full participant in practice on Thursday and doesn’t sound concerned about his availability when the regular season begins next week, as Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News relays (via Twitter).

Western Notes: Jazz, Holiday, Morant, Vezenkov, Strawther

The Jazz were involved in the Jrue Holiday sweepstakes before the All-Defensive guard was traded from Portland to Boston, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Larsen hears that Utah considered an offer that included multiple first-round picks for the standout guard. However, he notes that ESPN’s Bobby Marks said during a radio appearance that the Jazz were wary of pursuing Holiday too aggressively without any assurances that he’d commit to the team long-term. The 33-year-old holds a player option for the 2024/25 season, so he could have been just a one-year rental.

Having missed out on Holiday, the Jazz don’t have a clear-cut option to start at point guard and it’s clear that head coach Will Hardy is “struggling with this decision,” Larsen writes. As Tony Jones of The Athletic notes, each of the candidates for the role has exhibited his flaws as well as his strengths so far during camp and the preseason.

Collin Sexton isn’t a natural point guard and Talen Horton-Tucker and Keyonte George are still relatively raw as point guards, according to Jones, who adds that starting Kris Dunn would make it tricky for the team to find minutes off the bench for Sexton. Jordan Clarkson was also considered a candidate for the point guard job, but the Jazz appear more comfortable having him in a sixth-man role, so the competition could be down to four players.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • When Ja Morant‘s 25-game suspension was announced in June, the NBA indicated that the Grizzlies guard would have to meet certain conditions to be reinstated. The league provided an update this week, indicating that Morant’s suspension won’t be shortened but also isn’t expected to extend beyond 25 games, report Sam Amick and Joe Vardon of The Athletic.
  • Ziaire Williams played well as the Grizzlies‘ fifth starter in Tuesday’s preseason win over Milwaukee, but head coach Taylor Jenkins isn’t ready to commit to that spot for the regular season, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Luke Kennard appears to be Williams’ top competition for that starting spot, with Jake LaRavia, David Roddy, and John Konchar looming as wild card, per Cole.
  • Kings head coach Mike Brown is unsure whether NBA newcomer Sasha Vezenkov will be part of the team’s rotation when the regular season begins, per Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. In a separate story, Anderson points out that Vezenkov started in place of injured forward Keegan Murray (thumb) on Wednesday, but Chris Duarte took Vezenkov’s spot in the lineup to open the third quarter. According to Brown, Vezenkov’s ability to hold his own on defense will be a significant factor in determining his role.
  • Nuggets rookie Julian Strawther, vying for a rotation spot, had an impressive preseason debut on Tuesday vs. Phoenix, piling up 20 points, five rebounds, and three assists with no turnovers in 21 minutes off the bench. Bennett Durando of The Denver Post has the details, observing that Strawther’s ability to space the floor may help earn him a regular role.

Grizzlies Notes: Morant, Adams, Smart, Rose

Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant won’t be eligible to play until December as he serves his 25-game suspension, but the plan is for him to remain around the team on a full-time basis during that period, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

As Cole writes, team officials consulted with the NBA and confirmed that Morant will be permitted to practice with the Grizzlies and to travel on road trips. He simply can’t be in the arena for games.

“I think it’s great to have, I think it’s great for the group that he can be with us,” Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman told reporters. “The NBA has basically said that as long as Ja continues to stay on track, he is going to be cleared to participate in all team activities.”

Although Morant will be able to take part in practices and scrimmages, he’ll likely be part of the second or third unit during those sessions so that head coach Taylor Jenkins can get a look at the lineups he’ll have available for the first 25 games of the season.

“He and I talked about as we go into camp, it’s a unique situation where even though he’s allowed to practice, I’ve got to start diving into not just what our opening night roster is going to be, but seeing those different combinations,” Jenkins said, per Cole.

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Veteran center Steven Adams, who hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since January due to a right knee injury, has been cleared for live play, but the team will be “conservative” in ramping him up, Kleiman said on Monday (Twitter link via Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian). Adams told reporters that there were some complications during his recovery process, adding that it would be “irresponsible” for him to say he could play a full game right now. However, he believes he’s “in a pretty good spot” (Twitter links via Cole).
  • While the veteran leadership that Marcus Smart and Derrick Rose will provide was one reason why the Grizzlies targeted them this offseason, both veterans made it clear on Monday that they’re not in Memphis to “babysit” Morant or any other Grizzlies youngsters, according to Cole and Jonah Dylan of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “I’m not here to follow you around, I’m not here to cheerlead, I’m here to push you,” Rose said of how he’ll approach his relationship with Morant. “In the league, there are very few opportunities where players get a chance to play with somebody that has a similar style of play. I’m very fortunate to be in a situation where a lot of people look at his game and they kind of compare our games together. But he’s on a whole other level.”
  • Acquired from Boston in a three-team trade in June, Smart is already connecting with his new teammates in Memphis, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “It’s been great,” Smart said on Monday. “As they told you already, I’ve been talking defense in there with those guys, but you realize right away that this is a group of guys that are hungry. They want to win and are trying to get better. They’re asking me questions; we’re laughing and joking, but we’re excited.”
  • Iko notes in the same story that Jenkins is open to trying different strategies on offense with Morant out for the first 25 games of the season and will experiment with different lineups in the preseason.

International Notes: Ibaka, Satoransky, Parker, Sarr

Serge Ibaka hopes to prove he can still play at a high level as he joins FC Bayern Munich in Germany. In an interview posted on the team’s website, Ibaka expressed excitement about resuming his career overseas.

“For me, it is a privilege to be able to join this historic, globally renowned sports club so that the basketball team can rise to the top of Europe,” he said. “I had a long NBA career, but I approach this new chapter with a lot of enthusiasm – I still have a lot of fire in me and love the game.”

Ibaka played professionally in France and Spain before coming to the Thunder in 2009, so he’s familiar with European basketball. He was part of the foundation in Oklahoma City for several seasons and won a ring with Toronto in 2019, but his playing time has been declining for the past few seasons. Ibaka averaged just 11.6 minutes in 16 games with the Bucks last season before a trade at the February deadline sent him to the Pacers, who waived him two days later.

“I always give my all to the game, and I definitely plan to do the same here in Munich and hopefully help the younger players,” Ibaka said. “On the court, I want to assist the team with everything that is needed, starting from defense to my shooting range. I want to be a part of a team that collaborates and has a winning mentality.”

There’s more international news to pass along:

  • Former NBA guard Tomas Satoransky hopes to help Jabari Parker make the transition to Europe with FC Barcelona, according to Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops. Parker’s first major test will come against Real Madrid in the semifinals of Supercopa Endesa. “Jabari’s situation is a little more complicated because it is his first year in Europe and this is always difficult, especially if you come in a league as competitive as the ACB,” Satoransky said. “But I see him very well and he really wants to improve.”
  • Perth center Alexandre Sarr talks to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (video link) about his performance in the G League Fall Invitational and his potential to be the top pick in next year’s draft.
  • Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and Devin Booker are serving as coaches for Saturday’s finals of the Nike World Basketball Festival in New York, per Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.

Grizzlies Notes: Harrison, Aldama, Jackson Jr., Jenkins

The Grizzlies signed guard Shaquille Harrison to a one-year contract and he could be a factor in the early going with Ja Morant serving his suspension, Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal notes. Under the terms of the CBA, any player suspended more than six games will be put on the team’s suspended list after five. That will open a roster spot, and that’s where Harrison could add more depth. He can play either guard spot and has plenty of experience after passing through six other NBA organizations.

We have more from the Grizzlies:

  • Santi Aldama had a big game for Spain when his national team was eliminated in the FIBA World Cup by Canada, Cole writes. The big man poured in 20 points, though he only grabbed two rebounds in Canada’s three-point win. Jaren Jackson Jr. was plagued by foul trouble trying to check former Grizzlies teammate and Lithuanian national team center Jonas Valanciunas in Team USA’s six-point loss on Sunday.
  • In a subscriber-only story, Cole opines that coach Taylor Jenkins’ future with the organization hinges on its performance in the postseason. The Grizzlies were bounced in the first round by the Lakers this past season after losing to the Warriors in the conference semifinals the previous year.
  • As we previously noted, the Grizzlies already have a full roster going into training camp. Even if Harrison’s contract isn’t guaranteed, the Grizzlies will have to trim two players with guaranteed deals by opening night.