Ja Morant had watched the past eight Memphis Grizzlies games away from the team before returning to the bench on Monday night when Memphis hosted the Dallas Mavericks.
A 112-108 win on Monday moved the Grizzlies to 6-3 over the nine-game stretch without Morant. Now Memphis (44-27) is "hopeful" that its two-time All-Star point guard can return Wednesday against the Houston Rockets.
Morant apologized to all of his teammates on Monday afternoon when he spoke to the team. One surprising suggestion that Dillon Brooks mentioned was Morant volunteering to come off the bench since the Grizzlies have started to play strong basketball.
"I said, 'Hell no,'" Brooks said. "'You're too good of a player. You're the engine of this team. We need you out there getting reps and getting acclimated to who you are as that third-quarter, fourth-quarter closer' who is yelling and screaming at everybody, who is dunking on everybody, making amazing plays, getting guys the ball being the leader he is. He's got nothing to prove to us."
Teammates noticed the difference with Morant around the team Monday. Morant came out of the locker room tunnel in the final minutes before the game. He walked up to Tyus Jones, danced and did handshakes with the rest of the starting lineup.
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"Definitely a lot more energy in the building," David Roddy said. "He talked with us, and he's just super excited to be back."
"He brings a spirit that nobody can match," Desmond Bane said. "It's his own swag. We're excited to get back on the floor."
A lot of talk has been made about whether the Grizzlies need more veteran leadership on what is one of the NBA's youngest rosters. Former Grizzlies player and 14-year NBA veteran Danny Green is among those who have stated that the Grizzlies could use more veterans.
As Brooks previously pointed out, the depth of the Grizzlies' roster makes it tough for Memphis to get an older veteran. Xavier Tillman Sr. was the last big man on the depth chart at one point, but he's now the starting center. The Grizzlies also have three rookies on standard contracts.
Luke Kennard called Morant the team's leader, and Brooks, who is the longest-tenured Grizzlies player, credited Morant for putting the Grizzlies on the map.
The Grizzlies are trusting Morant's actions. His teammates don't view him as someone they have to monitor and keep an eye on to avoid trouble.
"You're going to see a different Ja out there who is going to be consistent every night and is going to give us that energy that we need to be that top team in the West," Brooks said.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Ja Morant's Memphis Grizzlies teammates on his return to the bench