After waiting nearly two months while the NBA conducted its investigation, the league on Friday announced a 25-game suspension for Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant from the start of the 2023-24 season.
In March, Morant, 23, was suspended for eight games after live Instagram video showed him displaying a firearm at a Denver-area nightclub. In the days that followed, Morant spent time at a Florida counseling center. Two months later, the two-time All-Star was filmed posing in a car with a gun. The Grizzlies suspended Morant from team activities at the time, and he has remained so ever since.
“Ja Morant’s decision to once again wield a firearm on social media is alarming and troubling given his similar behavior 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 mimic Ja’s behavior is of particular concern. In these circumstances, we believe a 25-game ban is appropriate and make it clear that reckless and irresponsible conduct with guns will not be tolerated.”
But questions remain. Why 25 games? Where will Morant spend his off-season and absence? How will the Grizzlies make up for his absence?
Here’s everything you need to know about the suspension, from how the NBA set the severity of the suspension to how it affects Morant and the Grizzlies going free. NBA insiders Bobby Marks, Kevin Pelton, Tim MacMahon and Brian Windhorst share the latest:
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Why did the league choose 25 games?
That penalty fits into the league’s positioning following Miles Bridges’ suspension in April. Bridges was suspended for 30 games, 20 of which were considered served in the 2022–23 season, for failing to plead a domestic violence charge. Silver has stated on record that Morant’s actions were a safety issue and not a legal issue, which was the case with Bridges.
The league maintains that Morant’s actions were reckless and portrayed him and the NBA in a negative light, but that the incident did not reach the scale of Bridges’ misdemeanor. Morant’s ban is the second-longest ban of Silver’s ten-year tenure after Bridges, tied with five players who were banned for 25 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
In their view, the NBPA believes that the suspension is not in line with previous precedents. “As for the disciplinary sanction imposed, which keeps him out of court until December and requires the fulfillment of a number of undisclosed conditions before he can return, we believe it is excessive and inappropriate for a number of reasons, including the facts pertaining to this particular incident, and “that it’s not fair and consistent with past discipline in our league,” managing director Tamika Tremaglio said in a statement. “With Yes, we will explore all options and next steps.”
What precedent, if any, exists for this type of suspension?
Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton were both suspended for the remainder of the season in January 2010 following a gun incident in the Washington Wizards locker room. Arenas’ suspension (50 games) was technically longer than Crittenton’s (38) because Arenas was already suspended 12 games before then-NBA Commissioner David Stern made his official decision. In Morant’s case, the guns were not on team property, but it was a second offense following the March incident.
What rule(s) did Morant break? And is there an appeal process?
The NBA has sweeping powers when it believes player behavior is detrimental to the league. “Ultimately, when we set a standard for harmful behavior, it’s based on the values of this league and the expectations we have of our players regarding the image we project to our fans,” Silver said prior to Game 1 of the NBA Finals 2023. “So it’s not a legal standard. It’s a standard of a private organization.” Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, Morant has 30 days to file a grievance. An arbitrator would then decide whether the suspension should stand or be reduced.
What must Morant do to return?
After the March incident, Morant briefly attended a counseling program in Florida and said he learned how to better manage stress. Silver has clarified that the league will be involved in approving the new advice Morant must receive. “Prior to his return to the game, he must formulate and implement a program with the league that directly addresses the circumstances that led him to repeat this destructive behavior,” Silver said in the league’s statement on Friday.
What contact, if any, will the Grizzlies players, coaches and front office be allowed to have with Morant during his suspension?
According to league officials, the exact terms of Morant’s participation in non-public team activities have not yet been determined. He is not allowed to participate in public activities or attend pre-season games. But in the past long-suspended players have been allowed to use team facilities for treatment and training, and that is likely to be the case here as well. Under the general terms of a ban, the only restriction is that the player cannot be in the arena two hours or more before a game.
Where is Morant spending his off-season? Do we expect he will be there during lockdown?
Morant has historically spent most of his off-season at his home in suburban Memphis. The Grizzlies and the league office will likely have an impact on where he spends this summer and suspension. In his statement released on Friday, Morant said: “I’m spending the off-season and my suspension continuing to work on my own mental health and decision-making. I’ll train too so I’ll be ready when the time comes.” can be back on the pitch.
How does this affect Morant’s contract and salary in 2023-24?
The financial implications are staggering. Unlike the previous ban, which cost Morant $83,583 per game and nearly $669,000 in total, the current ban increases to $304,545 per game and more than $7.6 million in total. There are two reasons for the significant increase. First, since the suspension is for 20 or more games, the amount per game is 1/110 of his 2023–24 salary. The eight-game suspension during the season cost Morant just 1/145 of his 2022–23 salary per game. And second, Morant will enter the first year of a $194 million rookie max renewal he signed last July. His salary increases from $12.1 million to $33.5 million.
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However, the practical cost of these suspensions is far higher. Morant failed to make the All-NBA team last season, missing out on a $39 million contract bonus that would have made that five-year contract worth more than $230 million. Had Morant not been suspended he would likely be well on his way to joining the team, as he was the season before.
And it’s impossible to calculate the lost extrajudicial revenue from damaging his reputation. Two of Morant’s largest partners are Powerade and Nike. Powerade stopped its ads in March, while Nike stands by its side for now. “We are pleased that Ja is taking responsibility and putting his well-being first,” Nike said in a statement on Friday. “We will continue to support him on and off the court.” But Morant has essentially lost almost $50 million in salary as a result of these incidents and will not be eligible for next year’s All-NBA honors either.
What is the impact of the lockdown on the Grizzlies’ salary cap/luxury tax?
The Grizzlies get luxury tax and roster breaks, and 50% of the suspended amount goes toward the Grizzlies’ luxury tax — albeit at the end of the season. Memphis also gets an extra squad spot with the Morant suspension. Any player banned by the NBA for six or more games will be transferred to the team’s banned list after the fifth game of their ban.
With the start of the new league year on July 1, how might the suspension affect the Grizzlies’ free agency plans?
The Grizzlies have back-up Tyus Jones on the roster as Morant is out. The suspension could hurt because the Grizzlies are in dire need of a small forward as Dillon will go free to Brooks and his return is unlikely. Is a trading asset like Jones now off the table following Morant’s suspension? Aside from closing a trade, Memphis has the $12.2 million mid-level tax-free exception and three picks in Thursday’s (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN app) draft, including a first-rounder.
How will the lockdown affect Memphis’ prospects in 2023-24? Who will replace Morant in the line-up?
Morant’s suspension hurts the Grizzlies’ projection to the west, but Memphis will still have a good starting point guard. The Grizzlies frequently refer to Jones as the league’s top backup point guard, and he has proven more than capable of taking on a starting role.
In 22 starts last season, Jones averaged 16.4 points, 8.1 assists, 1.8 steals and just 1.5 turnovers while shooting 50% from the ground and 41.5% from 3-point range. The question is how Memphis will handle backup point guard minutes in Morant’s absence, whether it will count on starting shooting guard Desmond Bane to take on those duties, or whether it will be in draft or free agency find another option.
How did the Grizzlies do without Morant?
Exceptionally good. The Grizzlies are 34-15 in games started by Jones over the past two seasons, including the playoffs. Morant is a superstar who is raising the cap in Memphis, but the Grizzlies were more solid defensively and had better ball movement with Jones on the starting lineup.