The avalanche of bad news for the Memphis Grizzlies will not stop.
Against the backdrop of superstar point guard Ja Morant's leave of absence from the team and a season-ending Achilles injury to reserve forward Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies announced on Thursday that starting center Steven Adams will require at least four more weeks of recovery after receiving a stem cell injection in his injured right knee. Adams has not played since straining his PCL against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 22.
The Grizzlies are 7-11 in Adams' absence, falling to third place in the Western Conference (by way of a tiebreaker) and two games from the fourth seed. What was the NBA's best defense and a top-10 offense has respectively been the fifth-rated unit and a bottom-four outfit over the past six weeks without Adams.
Memphis found its footing recently, winning six of eight games over a three-week stretch by an average of 14 points, until Morant's season unraveled. Following a league investigation into allegations that Morant and his camp threatened members of the Indiana Pacers, The Washington Post reported last week that police questioned him over the summer about separate accusations of threats against a mall security guard and a teenager. Morant brandished what appeared to be a gun inside a Colorado strip club on Instagram Live this past weekend. An apology attributed to Morant on Saturday read, "I'm going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being."
When Colorado's Glendale Police Department announced on Wednesday that it would not be pursuing charges against Morant due to lack of evidence, the Grizzlies announced that the 23-year-old "will continue to remain away from the team for at least the next four games," including Thursday's nationally televised tilt against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Memphis has 18 games left in its regular season.
The initial timeline of 3-5 weeks for Adams' injury eclipsed at the start of this month before Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters on Sunday that the 7-footer's return "could be at the end of this road trip, but it has the potential to be a little bit longer than that." He had been scrimmaging 5-on-5 with his team.
In addition to Adams' production, which borders on a nightly double-double, Memphis misses the toughness the center brings as a screen-setter, offensive rebounder and defensive anchor. Adams' voice also carries weight in the Grizzlies' locker room, where he indirectly issued a harsh rebuke of Morant's behavior on the road in a recent players-only meeting, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Another four weeks before Adams is even reevaluated all but rules him out for the remainder of the regular season. With Clarke also sidelined, Morant's short-term future in doubt and Dillon Brooks teetering on a suspension with every other technical foul, the Grizzlies' grip on contention is loosening by the
Memphis and Sacramento both own 38-26 records. Neither is likely to fall below fourth place, but no first-round series is a cakewalk in the West. It is a must that Morant returns in good standing, but Adams' health for the start of the playoffs may also mean the difference between a deep playoff run and an early exit.