To realize, in the wrong context, that this could be taken the wrong way: “It’s my job to push him and let him know, in time, whenever he’s being reckless, to calm down."
To realize, given all of the problems Morant created for himself in the past year, he needed to interrupt the next question to clarify what he meant.
“With me saying 'reckless,' ” Rose said, “I’m saying on the court, guys.”
This was the awkward dance that took place at Grizzlies media day, when the one player who wasn’t allowed to appear in front of reporters was asked about and talked about more than anyone else who was there.
This annual event throughout the NBA is meant to be filled with the familiar strains of hope and promise ahead of a new season, and that was present Monday at FedExForum. But this edition in Memphis happened without the biggest star in franchise history and featured the lingering fallout from the tumultuous events last season that led to him being suspended to start this season.
If there was an unintentional theme, it’s that there will be three seasons at FedExForum in 2023-24: The one the Grizzlies play before Morant returns from his 25-game suspension; the one they play once he returns from that suspension; and then (presumably) a chance for actual redemption in the postseason.
Don’t let the new billboards outside FedExForum — with Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marcus Smart in the forefront ahead of Morant — fool you. This season still depends on Morant, and whether he can stay out of the trouble that zapped the franchise’s momentum last season.
“If he’s not succeeding, I’m going to tell you one thing, this team is not going to succeed,” Smart said. “We know that and I think everybody in the NBA world knows that.”
The Grizzlies knew that. They felt the effects of the distractions Morant caused. There had to be an infusion of veterans to steady the locker room.
Insert Smart and Rose. They are here to play big roles, particularly Smart. But they're also here to provide guidance for Morant, and for this roster full of players who got ahead of themselves after finishing No. 2 in the Western Conference during the regular season in consecutive years.
Smart, known as a truth teller in Boston, insisted he’ll do the same in Memphis. Rose mentioned a recent (and blunt) conversation he had with Morant about his expectations.
"I’m not here to babysit, micromanage, or any of that.,” Rose revealed. “I’m here to push you.”
And he went on.
"With (Morant), it’s only three things: time, patience and discipline," Rose explained. "Hopefully what he went through, he’ll have the patience to actually see what’s going on around him. And discipline, that’s the biggest thing with any young man . . . to remind yourself, or be mindful of the places you’re at, who you’re with and your actions.”
To that end, Monday began with a refreshing update: The Grizzlies aren’t going anywhere without Morant this season. Literally.
General manager Zach Kleiman and coach Taylor Jenkins each confirmed the NBA will permit Morant to be with the team during practices, shootarounds and road trips while he’s suspended. Kleiman emphasized he thinks “it’s in the best interest of everyone moving forward that Ja can be in the team environment.”
This is setting up well for Morant to hit the ground running in December after missing more than 30 percent of the regular season. This is setting up well for the Grizzlies to overcome another distraction and be a serious threat again.
FROM THE OFFSEASON: Grizzlies give Derrick Rose and Memphis a chance at the ending they deserve
But Morant’s long-term outlook remains cloudier, and largely up to him. The Grizzlies have put structure in place that wasn’t there this time last year, when in retrospect, Morant's life off the court had already begun to go awry.
Kleiman declined to go into specific requirements and benchmarks that Morant must meet with the NBA and the Grizzlies in these next couple of months. It all sounded nebulous — maybe a bit too much so, even if it was intentional.
“The dialogue has really been as long as Ja continues to stay on track, he’ll be allowed to continue participating with us,” Kleiman said. “Sometimes, you know it when you see it. If he keeps taking steps in the right direction, we all kind of know what that means.”
We also know it might not mean anything. That's what that second Instagram video proved.
These aren’t the precocious players of two years ago trying to put the NBA on notice when nobody had quite noticed them yet. Nor was it the brash group of last year that prematurely declared themselves an NBA title contender. This is a team that had to recalibrate in the offseason, well aware that it’ll have to recalibrate itself again when Morant returns.
“We’re just going to make it about hoops,” Jackson said.
Here’s hoping there’s no need to clarify that this season.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on X: @mgiannotto
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Grizzlies do a hopeful, awkward dance around absent Ja Morant