Losing Ja Morant for the season: Memphis and NBA trade deadline implications

The Grizzlies star suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder and will have season-ending surgery before fully recovering for the 2024–25 season. The Memphis Grizzlies revealed on Monday evening that superstar point guard Ja Morant has a ruptured labrum in his right shoulder and will require season-ending surgery. Morant played nine games after serving a 25-game suspension to begin the season. Memphis started the season 0-6 and finished 6-19 without the two-time All-Star.



Losing Ja Morant for the season: Memphis and NBA trade deadline implications
Losing Ja Morant for the season: Memphis and NBA trade deadline implications

 

Despite the Grizzlies’ poor playoff odds, Morant’s comeback (which coincided with the return of other rotation players from injury) infused new energy into a club that had lost its heart and soul. So much so that it appeared Morant would carry the team on his back and lead them back to the playoffs after going 4-0 in his first four games back. The former Murray State standout nailed the game-winner in his first game back, a 24-point comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, and put up monster statistics in his nine appearances. Morant averaged 25.1 points, 47.1/27.5/81.3 shooting splits, 8.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 35.3 minutes per game.



The Grizzlies will now have to play the rest of the season without Morant, one of the league’s best point guards and most tough covers. Marcus Smart’s return from a foot sprain is beneficial, as is the significant progress made this season by All-Star big man Jaren Jackson Jr. and sharpshooting wing Desmond Bane.



However, the absence of Morant limits Memphis’ postseason potential, even if they overcome a 4.5-game deficit to climb out of the No. 13 position and return to the Play-In Tournament. Morant’s injury has far-reaching consequences for the Wolves that go beyond the lessened chance of another Minnesota/Memphis semifinal showdown.



The trade that President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and the Wolves front office made to acquire Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker for D’Angelo Russell will be remembered for a long time in Minnesota, especially if the Timberwolves make a deep run in the playoffs. While the deal is certainly a success based only on the players involved, it gets much more spectacular when you consider that the Wolves obtained three second-round picks as part of the deal.



Losing Ja Morant for the season: Memphis and NBA trade deadline implications
Losing Ja Morant for the season: Memphis and NBA trade deadline implications

Two of the three are the Utah Jazz’s second-round picks in 2025 and 2026, both with no protections; the 2026 pick was combined with the Wolves’ 2028 pick to land Leonard Miller on draft night last year. The first pick to be conveyed is a 2024 second-round pick, the less favorable of the Grizzlies’ and Washington Wizards’ selection.



To put it another way, whichever of those two clubs finishes with a better record (and hence a second-round pick later in the draft) will give that pick to Minnesota. Given that the Wizards are a dismal 6-30, the 13-23 Grizzlies are far more likely to finish with a better record and ultimately lose their selection to the Timberwolves.



If the choice falls between 31 and 40 (one through ten in the second round), it will have some real value as a vehicle for not only picking a good player with tremendous upside but also potentially making a deal before the NBA Trade Deadline on Thursday, February 8th. Keep in mind that Miller, who was seen as a first-round pick by many draft analysts before the draft, was taken No. 33 overall in the 2023 NBA Draft, which is ideal for selecting a high-upside talent who slipped out of the first round.



However, considering that the Wolves will face a significant financial crunch after this season, having as many chances as possible to get a quality rotation player on a regular second-round rookie contract is also tempting.



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