In March, the 23-year-old Ja Morant faced an eight-game suspension following an Instagram Live video that captured him with a firearm at a nightclub in the Denver area. Subsequently, he sought counseling in a Florida facility. However, just two months later, another video surfaced, showing the two-time All-Star with a firearm inside a vehicle. This led the Grizzlies to suspend Morant from team activities, a suspension that remains in effect.
“Ja Morant’s decision to once again wield a firearm on social media is alarming and disconcerting given his similar conduct in March for which he was already suspended eight games,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in the league’s statement. “The potential for other young people to emulate Ja’s conduct is particularly concerning. Under these circumstances, we believe a suspension of 25 games is appropriate and makes clear that engaging in reckless and irresponsible behavior with guns will not be tolerated.”
Questions abound: Why the suspension of 25 games? How will Morant spend his offseason? What plans do the Grizzlies have during his hiatus?
Why was the suspension set at 25 games?
The league’s decision aligns with its stance after the Miles Bridges suspension in April. Bridges faced a 30-game suspension, with 20 of those games recognized as served during the 2022-23 season, following his no contest plea to a felony domestic violence charge. Unlike Bridges’ legal entanglement, NBA Commissioner Silver emphasized that Morant’s situation was about safety concerns.
While the league believes Ja Morant’s actions were irresponsible and cast a shadow over his image and the NBA‘s, they do not equate to the severity of Bridges’ infraction. Morant’s suspension is the second-longest in Silver’s decade-long tenure, only behind Bridges. It matches the length given to five other players suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
From the viewpoint of the NBPA, the suspension doesn’t align with previous decisions. Executive director Tamika Tremaglio expressed concerns, stating, “Regarding the discipline that sidelines him until December—with unspecified conditions for his return—we find it excessive and unwarranted for several reasons. These include the specific details of this incident and its inconsistency with prior league disciplines.” She added, “We will be discussing all possible options and subsequent steps with Ja.”
Is there a historical reference for such a suspension?
In January 2010, both Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton faced suspensions for the remainder of the season due to an episode with guns in the Washington Wizards’ locker room. Arenas’ suspension totaled 50 games—12 of which he had already served before then-NBA commissioner David Stern’s formal decision—making it technically longer than Crittenton’s 38-game suspension. While in Morant’s situation the firearms weren’t on team premises, it marked a repeat offense after an incident in March.
Which rule did Ja Morant violate? Is there a way to contest the decision?
The NBA possesses considerable discretion when it deems a player’s behavior as harmful to the league’s reputation. Silver, speaking before Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals, clarified, “Our criteria for detrimental conduct isn’t legalistic. It reflects the values and the image we wish to uphold for our fans as a private organization.” Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, Morant is entitled to file a grievance within 30 days. Subsequently, an arbitrator will determine the validity of the suspension or consider its reduction.
How does Ja Morant pave his way back to the game?
After the March incident, Morant briefly sought counseling in Florida, which aided him in better handling stress. The NBA, with Commissioner Silver at the helm, will have a say in the specifics of the new counseling Ja Morant undertakes. Silver emphasized, “Before Morant returns, he must establish and adhere to a league-approved program that directly addresses the root causes of his repeated unfavorable actions,” as stated in the league’s recent announcement.
Can the Grizzlies’ team members interact with Morant during his suspension?
While the exact stipulations regarding Morant’s involvement in private team events remain undecided, league guidelines prohibit his participation in public team activities and preseason matches. Historically, players serving extensive suspensions have been granted access to team facilities for therapy and training. It’s anticipated this will also apply to Morant. Generally, under suspension terms, the only firm rule is that players can’t be in the arena from two hours before the game starts.
Where does Morant typically spend his offseasons, and will this change during his suspension?
Historically, Morant has chosen to spend most of his offseasons in his residence located in the suburbs of Memphis. Both the Grizzlies organization and the league office are likely to weigh in on his whereabouts this summer and throughout the suspension duration. Reflecting on this, Ja Morant mentioned in his recent statement, “During the offseason and suspension, I am committed to focusing on my mental well-being and decision-making. Additionally, I will be training diligently to ensure I’m game-ready upon my return.”
How will Ja Morant’s suspension affect his contract and earnings for 2023-24?
The suspension’s financial repercussions for Morant are substantial. In contrast to his previous suspension where he forfeited roughly $669,000—at $83,583 per game—his current suspension will see him lose over $7.6 million, amounting to $304,545 per game. This dramatic surge is attributed to two key factors:
Suspensions spanning 20 games or more deduce a player’s salary by 1/110th for each game, in contrast to his eight-game suspension that deducted only 1/145th of his 2022-23 salary per game.
Morant is transitioning into the first year of his $194 million rookie max extension signed the previous July, propelling his salary from $12.1 million to a substantial $33.5 million.
Beyond the immediate impact, there are broader financial ramifications. Morant’s inability to secure a spot on the All-NBA team last season meant he missed out on a $39 million bonus, which would have raised his five-year contract to a value exceeding $230 million. Notably, if not for the suspension, Morant’s performance might have earned him a place on the team, as it did in the preceding season.
Moreover, the damage to his off-court earning potential is harder to quantify. While Powerade opted to withdraw their ads featuring Morant after the incident in March, Nike remains supportive. In a recent statement, Nike remarked, “We commend Ja for taking responsibility and emphasizing his well-being. Our commitment to support him both on and off the court remains unchanged.” Nonetheless, these episodes have potentially cost Morant close to $50 million in earnings, and he will also be barred from competing for All-NBA honors in the coming year.
How does Morant’s suspension affect the Grizzlies’ financial standings and roster?
The Grizzlies stand to gain both in terms of luxury tax benefits and roster flexibility.
Half of the amount from Morant’s suspension will be credited back to the Grizzlies’ luxury tax, but this adjustment will be realized at the season’s conclusion. Additionally, the suspension provides Memphis with an additional roster spot. Notably, any player receiving an NBA suspension of six games or more is shifted to the team’s suspended list after the completion of their fifth suspended game.
How will Morant’s suspension shape the Grizzlies’ strategy in the upcoming league year starting July 1?
With Morant’s absence, the Grizzlies can turn to their backup, Tyus Jones, to fill the void. The bigger challenge, however, lies in addressing the small forward position, especially with Dillon Brooks poised to enter free agency and the likelihood of his return seeming slim. With Jones now in the spotlight, it raises the question: Does this change the Grizzlies’ potential consideration of him as a trade asset? Besides trading options, Memphis can also leverage the $12.2 million non-tax midlevel exception and its three selections in the forthcoming draft, one of which is a first-rounder.
How might Morant’s suspension alter Memphis’ trajectory for the 2023-24 season? Who steps up in his place?
Undoubtedly, the suspension places a dent in the Grizzlies’ prospects in the West. Still, they are not without talent at the point guard position. Jones, frequently lauded by Memphis as the premier backup point guard in the league, has showcased his ability to step up when needed. In his 22 starts from the previous season, he boasted averages of 16.4 points, 8.1 assists, 1.8 steals, and a mere 1.5 turnovers. He also impressed with a 50% field goal percentage and a 41.5% success rate from beyond the arc. The pressing concern is determining who will shoulder the backup point guard role during Morant’s hiatus. Will the Grizzlies rely on starting shooting guard Desmond Bane, or will they scout new talent either through the draft or free agency?
How have the Grizzlies fared in Ja Morant’s absence?
Remarkably well, in fact. Over the past two seasons, including playoff games, the Grizzlies boast a 34-15 record when Jones steps into the starting role. While Morant’s superstar presence elevates the team’s potential, Memphis has showcased enhanced defensive prowess and smoother ball movement with Jones leading the charge.