Tuesday, May 30 2023
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Things can change rapidly within a single NBA season, and the Memphis Grizzlies are a prime example of that. After making it to the Western Conference semifinals last season, the Grizzlies entered the current campaign with some lofty expectations and a potential MVP candidate in Ja Morant, who was named the league’s Most Improved Player last year.

The season started off well enough for the Grizzlies. They won 31 of their first 44 games and held the top spot in the Western Conference standings for a brief period during December. But then Morant uttered the now infamous “fine in the West” statement in an interview with ESPN’s Malika Andrews, and both the player and the team have been in a tailspin since.  

Memphis, currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak, lost eight of nine games during a stretch that bled over from January into February, and dropped in the standings as a result. They’ve gone just 8-13 overall since that 31-13 start, and they currently sit third with just a two-game lead over the fourth-place Phoenix Suns.

The Grizzlies recently lost forward Brandon Clarke for the remainder of the season due to an Achilles injury and big man Steven Adams is out for at least another four weeks after missing the past month with a knee sprain. Those are two enormous pieces of their frontcourt rotation, and those absences will surely test the team’s depth. 

They’re also without Morant for an indefinite amount of time after he was seen apparently brandishing a gun at a club in a video shared to social media. The situation — the culmination of a string of recent incidents involving Morant — has cast a pall over the entire organization.  

Morant will miss a minimum of six games as a result of his actions — six crucial games during the stretch run of the season while the Grizzlies are in the midst of a fight for playoff position — and it has completely shifted the conversation around the team from on the court to off of it. To say that the ordeal isn’t ideal for team morale would be a pretty serious understatement. 

Even if Morant isn’t forced to miss an extended period of time, there’s no telling what kind of impact the situation will have in the locker room. When he ultimately returns, Morant will likely have some serious smoothing over to do. He’s part of a team, and his actions negatively impacted that team. No squad wants distractions, especially of this magnitude at this point in the season. 

Adams reportedly called on Morant to be more mature in a team meeting prior the incident involving the gun at the club, but his message clearly wasn’t taken too seriously. Morant would have been wise to heed the veteran’s advice. Had he, perhaps the Grizzlies could have avoided their deep descent into drama. 

They were never the odds-on favorite to win the title this year, but a cohesive argument could have been made in Memphis’ favor earlier this season. At this point though, it would be tough for anyone, even diehards in Grind City, to feel too good about picking the Grizzlies as a legitimate Finals favorite (Caesars lists Memphis with +2000 title odds, the fifth-best mark in the Western Conference). 

They’ve played inconsistent ball since late January, and they just have too much going on away from the floor. They’re also a poor road team with a 12-21 record outside of Memphis. If the playoffs started today, they’d face off against the Clippers in the first round. Would you feel confident picking them to win that series? I know I wouldn’t. 

You can’t write the Grizzlies off completely, because their ceiling is still extremely high. They have the league’s second-best defense, and they can be downright stifling on that end at times. Plus, the possibility remains that the team actually uses all the outside noise as an added motivator upon Morant’s return. But that’s far from a certainty. As a result, the Grizzlies feel a whole lot more like a question mark than a legitimate contender with just under a month remaining until the playoffs get underway. 

Source: CBSSports.com


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