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After serving a 25-game suspension, the eighth-longest in NBA history, for flashing a gun multiple times on livestreams earlier this year, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant is eligible to suit up again on Tuesday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Morant, the Grizzlies and the league were in constant communication regarding his progress toward a return, and the star guard has "complied with everything" asked of him, commissioner Adam Silver said on Dec. 9.

Morant spoke to reporters for the first time this season on Dec. 15 and reflected on his time away from the game. 

"It was definitely tough, some horrible days," Morant said. "It was tough, but like I said to start this, with the support that I had throughout this process, it definitely helped me a lot. It's pretty much all I could lean on at that time. Obviously, basketball is something I've been doing pretty much my whole life. Something that's therapeutic for me. Obviously taking that away, it makes it tougher. But I had the right people around me, from my family to the organization and to my other partners that helped me along in the process."  

He also admitted that he feels "guilt" for the Grizzlies' poor start. After winning 51 games and earning the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season, the Grizzlies enter Tuesday with the fifth-worst record in the league, and, at 6-19, sit 7.5 games outside of the Play-In Tournament. 

Ahead of Morant's first game back, CBS Sports' James Herbert, Jack Maloney and Sam Quinn discussed why the Grizzlies have been this bad, what to expect from Morant, and their chances of making a playoff push. 

The Grizzlies were 11-10 without Morant last season and 20-5 without him in 2021-22. Why haven't they been able to keep that up? 

Jack Maloney: The easiest answer is that they haven't been healthy. Steven Adams won't play this season, Brandon Clarke has no timeline for his return, Marcus Smart, who was supposed to hold down the point guard position in Morant's absence, has missed significant time and a number of role players have been banged up. Most nights it's Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane running around with a borderline G-League supporting cast, and that's not a winning formula. 

James Herbert:  The Grizzlies used to have an identity on offense --- dominate the boards, take care of the ball, feast in transition -- that they could lean on with Morant out. That's not necessarily gone forever, but it hasn't been there this season because of all the other injuries and roster changes. (The shorter answer: Memphis can't score!)

Sam Quinn: The Grizzlies had the best backup point guard in the NBA over the last two seasons in Tyus Jones. Jones is now a Wizard, having been swapped out for Smart in a move that was at least somewhat financially motivated. Smart was supposed to replace two departing Grizzlies: Jones as the backup point guard and Dillon Brooks as the primary wing stopper. He turned out to be a downgrade on both before getting hurt in mid-November. Now, Memphis doesn't have the sort of stabilizing floor-general it relied on during Morant's previous absences or an elite defense to fall back on.

What are your on-court expectations for Morant upon his return? 

Maloney: I expect him to be back to an All-Star level almost immediately. It might take a few games for him to find a rhythm, but he's been healthy the entire time and showed last season after his initial suspension that he won't be fazed by all the noise. 

Herbert: There could be some rust initially, but before long he'll return to his All-NBA form. It would be unfair to expect Morant to fix everything that ails the Grizzlies offensively, but he'll relieve some of the pressure on Bane and Jackson in the halfcourt, give the team an enormous boost in transition and drive the turnover rate (which is the eighth-highest mark in the league, per Cleaning The Glass) down. There will be trickle-down effects, too; in addition to strengthening the starting lineup, his presence will allow Memphis to keep one of Morant and Bane on the floor at all times, which should improve the bench units.

Quinn: Assuming Morant is in shape and ready to go, there's plenty of reason to believe he could be headed for one of his best statistical seasons. If nothing else, he's never played with as much space as he's going to have now. The Grizzlies desperately miss Adams, but his absence has forced Jackson to play more center. This is Luke Kennard's first full season in Memphis, and it's Brooks' first season elsewhere. The Grizzlies are taking the fifth-most 3-pointers per game in the NBA right now. That's music to the ears of Morant, who is as dangerous attacking the basket as any guard in the NBA.

What's one specific thing you'll be watching for in his first few games back?

Maloney: I'll be keeping an eye on the Grizzlies' pace. Last season they were eighth in pace (101.5) and second in fast break points per game (18.0). This season they rank 17th (99.4) and 27th (11.5) in those categories, respectively. Morant's return should speed them up, which in turn will generate more easy baskets and boost what has been a brutal offense. 

Herbert: Shot quality. The Grizzlies surely wouldn't mind if Morant drops 50 in one of his first few games, but that's not necessary. The big thing is the effect that he has on the team. Ideally, he's getting into the paint and creating open 3s and shots at the rim for his teammates. At his best, even Morant's misses are helpful -- he draws so much attention as a driver that it's easy for the bigs to get putbacks.

Quinn: His defense. It's ranged from barely passable to outright bad throughout his NBA career. With Brooks gone and Adams injured, that's not going to be good enough. We know Morant is going to push the pace. We know he'll score and set up his teammates. Let's see if he's willing to commit to doing the less glamorous things that lead to winning.

As much as it hurt his team, is it possible that the extended break will be beneficial for Morant on an individual level? 

Maloney: I think certainly you can make that case. Morant suffered a nasty hand injury during the playoffs that is now fully healed, and plays a daring and physical style for someone of his size. He hasn't had to take any hard bumps for months and should be extremely fresh once he gets back on the court. 

Herbert: In theory, he's fresher than he would be otherwise, plus his hand is healthy and he's spent two and a half months (including training camp and the preseason) seeing what this team looks like without him. He should have a pretty good idea of what Memphis needs from him, and, if the team goes on a run shortly after his return, we'll hear all about these silver linings. I bet he'd much rather have not had the break, though.

Quinn: I'll say the quiet part out loud: as much as the Grizzlies would have preferred to have Morant on the court and out of the headlines over the past 10 months or so, potentially adding another lottery pick this summer is a pretty enticing silver lining. The Grizzlies are about to get very, very expensive. Bane's max contract kicks in next season. Morant already has one, and Jackson is pretty pricey himself. The Grizzlies had already lost significant depth in recent years. The Western Conference arms race has only grown scarier with the emergence of the younger, cheaper Thunder as a legitimate contender. The most important thing for the Grizzlies right now is that Morant has used this time away to grow in whatever ways he needs to in order to ensure he won't get into any more trouble. But if the ground they've already lost puts them in position to nab another high-upside prospect? That could have a substantial impact on Morant's long-term title hopes in Memphis.

The Grizzlies are 7.5 games out of the Play-In Tournament. Will they be able to make up that gap? 

Maloney: Let's look at it mathematically. Last season, the Grizzlies had a 0.656 winning percentage with Morant on the floor. If Morant doesn't miss another game and they play at that pace again, it would translate to 37-20 over their remaining 57 games. Add in the wins they already have and you're looking at a win total in the low-to-mid 40s. Last season, the Play-In Teams had 43, 42, 42 and 40 wins, respectively. It's possible, but they'd really need a lot to go right the rest of the way. 

Herbert: They have a shot, but I wouldn't call it more likely than not. It's far too early to dismiss them; it's just hard to tell exactly what kind of record they'll need to sneak in. The big variable is health, not just for Memphis but for the teams currently in and around the play-in. Another variable is what happens in between now and the trade deadline -- will the Grizzlies make a win-now move? Will the Warriors?

Quinn: Remember, just because Morant is eligible to play in the last 57 games for the Grizzlies doesn't mean he's likely to do so. He's missed roughly 20% of his team's regular-season games over the past four seasons and that's not even including this season's suspension. If the Grizzlies knew they were getting 57 games of Morant? They'd have a small but real chance of closing the gap. But when you factor in how thin other injuries have made them and the likelihood of a twisted ankle here or a tweaked hamstring there, it's just hard to envision Memphis playing at the pace it would need to in order to catch the teams in play-in range. Heck, the Suns are No. 10 in the West right now. They're going to get better as they get healthier as well.