Ja Morant has two choices.
The Memphis Grizzlies All-Star can throw away his promising NBA career.
Or he can flourish as one of the league’s bright young stars – an annual MVP and All-NBA candidate for the next decade with the possibility of becoming one of the best guards in league history.
The choice is Morant’s, and whether that’s an easy or difficult decision is up to him.
Morant is expected to return from an eight-game suspension without pay Wednesday against Houston, following his decision to hold a gun while at a strip club and post video of it on social media.
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The NBA called it “conduct detrimental to the league.”
In a statement, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, “Ja’s conduct was irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous. It also has serious consequences given his enormous following and influence, particularly among young fans who look up to him. He has expressed sincere contrition and remorse for his behavior. Ja has also made it clear to me that he has learned from this incident and that he understands his obligations and responsibility to the Memphis Grizzlies and the broader NBA community extend well beyond his play on the court.”
We will see if the second half of Silver’s statement holds up. It’s up to Morant, who has a growing list of off-court incidents that are concerning for Morant, the league and the Grizzlies.
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Last week, Morant, who has not been charged with any crimes, met with Silver, NBA executive vice president and head of basketball operations Joe Dumars and National Basketball Players Association executive director Tamika Tremaglio.
Silver’s tone was stern but nurturing, people with knowledge of the meeting told USA TODAY Sports. The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the details of the conversation.
For his part so far, Morant has said and done the right things. In a statement, an interview with ESPN’s Jalen Rose and in Tuesday’s media availability, Morant held himself accountable. “I take responsibility for the decisions I made that pretty much hurt me to the core,” Morant told reporters Tuesday.
It’s quite possible he needed this kind of public fall to understand he needs advice and maturity. At 23, no one has all the answers. Morant was not only receptive to counseling, but it was, in part, his idea to spend 11 days at a facility in Florida. While that may not have solved everything, it was a step in the right direction, and that much time in intense therapy shouldn’t be dismissed.
For all this talk about accountability, Morant isn’t the only one who needs it. The Grizzlies, as an organization, need accountability, too. It seems the franchise was afraid of saying no to Morant, fearful that he would demand a trade from the small-market club if he didn’t get his way.
The Athletic reported the Grizzlies had changed part of their travel routine this season, leaving cities at night after a game instead of staying overnight so players can enjoy a city’s nightlife post-game. This is not uncommon. But it’s earned and comes with responsibility. Of course, players would rather stay an extra night in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Washington and New Orleans, and when the star player advocates for it, teams sometimes accommodate. But the Grizzlies are 14-22 on the road this season, the worst road record among the top four teams in both the West and East.
Morant sometimes does not speak to the media after losses – maybe a small thing to some – but it’s a requirement and part of being a leader is speaking on behalf of the team after wins and losses. But no one in the Grizzlies organization has the pull to force him to do it.
Until now maybe. So far, owner Robert Pera and president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman have been silent, at least publicly. They have let Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins answer all the questions about Morant.
“Obviously, things are going to be different,” Jenkins told reporters in a recent press conference, adding that the franchise is there to support Morant and hold him accountable.
Let’s see if the Grizzlies have the gumption to do that.
And let’s see if Morant wants that.
Any decent person wants the best for another person in a situation like this, and now is Morant’s opportunity to show he learned from his mistakes. What’s done is done and what matters most is what happens next.