While rookie forward Emoni Bates is rediscovering his love of basketball with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the potential Cavs fan favorite wouldn’t have minded being drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies.

His time at the University of Memphis, where he played his freshman season of college after leaving Michigan’s Ypsi Prep Academy (created by his father, Elgin Bates), may have played a part. After all, there’s nothing quite like your freshman year of college. Bates could have developed a fondness for the local scene or people even if he didn’t feel as if continuing to play for the Tigers men’s basketball program was best for his career.

However, the reason that Bates gave for wanting to play for the Grizzlies — his bond with Grizzlies face of the franchise Ja Morant — will turn a few heads given the recent drama surrounding the rising star.

“That’s like my big brother,” he reveals to Damichael Cole of Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Prior to the 2023 NBA Draft, in which he was selected 49th overall, the Michigan native had similar sentiments towards Phoenix Suns megastar Kevin Durant.

In the case of Morant, it may have been their connection that led to Bates — once dubbed the best high school prospect since NBA legend LeBron James — choosing to attend Memphis in the first place. After all, even back in 2021, Morant was calling Bates his “little brother” (per Mark Giannotto of Memphis Commercial Appeal).

This is great for the Cavs and Emoni Bates…

Of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers front office and NBA fans will have mixed feelings about this information, as young players often need plenty of guidance after entering the NBA. That includes Ja Morant himself, who got himself in murky waters over the past year — being suspended for a total of 33 games — over two easily avoidable incidents.

Situations that can serve as a lesson to many players even from afar because of the incidents themselves as much as the fallout for a player whose highlight reel plays, All-Star production and charisma had him set to be a face of the NBA. Now, although fully capable of it, Morant finds himself on a redemption tour amid the adversity.

Nonetheless, having players as talented as Morant or Kevin Durant in his corner is invaluable, as is having players around that he may be able to relate to as people. Such situations, and the resulting synergy, often makes it easier for people to absorb both basketball knowledge and life lessons.

With that said, the Cavs appear to have a truly talented piece on their hands. After signing a two-way contract with Cleveland that will get him plenty of developmental reps in the G League, how good he can be may ultimately be up to him.

However, throughout the Las Vegas Summer League, Bates has consistently improved, a moved with a burst and sharpness in his last game that he hadn’t played with for a while. When he plays like that, letting his natural two-way talent shine, it’s easy to see just how important he can be.

Fortunately for Cleveland, they got him instead of the Memphis Grizzlies.