In March, Morant, 23, was suspended for eight games after an Instagram Live video showed him displaying a firearm in a Denver-area nightclub. In the days after, Morant spent time at a counseling facility in Florida. Two months later, the two-time All-Star was filmed posing with a firearm in a car. The Grizzlies suspended Morant from team activities then, and he has remained so since.
“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.”
But questions remain. Why 25 games? Where will Morant spend his offseason and his time away? How will the Grizzlies cover for his absence?
Here’s everything you need to know about the suspension, from how the NBA determined its severity to how it affects both Morant and the Grizzlies heading into free agency. NBA insiders Bobby Marks, Kevin Pelton, Tim MacMahon and Brian Windhorst provide the latest:
Why did the league choose 25 games?
This penalty fits into where the league positioned itself following the Miles Bridges suspension in April. Bridges was suspended for 30 games, 20 deemed served during the 2022-23 season, for pleading no contest to a felony domestic violence charge. Silver is on record as saying Morant’s actions were a safety issue, not a legal one, which was the case for Bridges.
The league is taking a position that Morant’s actions were reckless and portrayed him and the NBA in a negative light, but that the incident did not rise to the level of Bridges’ offense. Morant’s suspension stands as the second-longest given out under Silver’s 10-season tenure behind Bridges, tied with five players who were banned 25 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
The NBPA, from its perspective, believes the suspension is not in line with past precedent. “As to the discipline imposed, which keeps him off the court until December and requires some unstated conditions to be met before he can return, we believe it is excessive and inappropriate for a number of reasons including the facts involved in this particular incident, and that it is not fair and consistent with past discipline in our league,” executive director Tamika Tremaglio said in a statement. “We will explore with Ja 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 rest of the season in January 2010 after an incident involving guns in the Washington Wizards locker room. Arenas’ suspension (50 games) was technically longer than Crittenton’s (38) because Arenas had been suspended for 12 games before then-NBA commissioner David Stern made his official ruling. In Morant’s case, the guns were not on team property, but this was a second offense, following the March incident.
What rule(s) did Morant break? And is there an appeals process?
The NBA has broad power if it believes player conduct is detrimental to the league. “When we have a standard for conduct detrimental, at the end of the day, it’s one based on what we see as the values of this league and what our expectations from our players are in terms of the image we’re portraying to our fans,” Silver said before Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals. “So, it’s not a legal standard. It’s a private organization standard.” As part of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, Morant has 30 days to file a grievance. An arbitrator would then decide if the suspension holds or is reduced.
What will Morant be required to do to return?
Morant briefly enrolled in a counseling program in Florida after the incident in March, and he said he learned how to manage stress better. Silver has made it clear the league will be involved in approving the new counseling Morant must receive. “Prior to his return to play, he will be required to formulate and fulfill a program with the league that directly addresses the circumstances that led him to repeat this destructive behavior,” Silver said in Friday’s league statement.
What contact, if any, are the Grizzlies players, coaches and front office allowed to have with Morant during his suspension?
According to league officials, the exact terms of Morant’s participation in non-public team activities haven’t been decided. He will not be allowed to participate in any public activities or play in preseason games. But in the past, players who were under long suspensions were permitted to use team facilities for treatment and for workouts, and that is likely to be the case here. Under the general terms of a suspension, the only restriction is that the player is not allowed to be in the arena starting two hours before a game.
Where does Morant spend his offseasons? Do we expect he’ll be there during the suspension?
Morant has in the past spent the majority of his offseasons at his home in suburban Memphis. The Grizzlies and the league office will likely have some input on where he spends this summer and this suspension. In his statement released Friday, Morant said: “I’m spending the offseason and my suspension continuing to work on my own mental health and decision-making. I’m also going to be training so that I’m ready to go when I can be back on the court.”
How does this impact Morant’s contract and 2023-24 salary?
The financial implications are seismic. Unlike the previous suspension that cost Morant $83,583 per game and a total of almost $669,000, the current suspension increases to $304,545 per game and a total of more than $7.6 million. There are two reasons for the significant increase. The first is that, because the suspension is for 20 games or more, the per-game amount is 1/110th of his 2023-24 salary. The eight-game suspension during the season cost Morant only 1/145th of his 2022-23 salary per game. And second, Morant is set to enter Year 1 of a $194 million rookie max extension that he signed last July. His salary jumps from $12.1 million to $33.5 million.
But the practical costs of these suspensions are far greater. Morant failed to be voted onto the All-NBA team this past season and, therefore, lost out on a $39 million contract bonus that would have made that five-year deal worth more than $230 million. Had Morant not been suspended, he was on a probable track to make the team, as he had the season before.
And it is impossible to calculate lost off-court revenue from the harm to his reputation. Two of Morant’s biggest partners are Powerade and Nike. Powerade, in March, pulled its ads, while Nike, for now, is standing by him. “We are pleased that Ja is taking accountability and prioritizing his well-being,” Nike said Friday in a statement. “We will continue to support him on and off the court.” But Morant has essentially lost nearly $50 million in pay from these incidents already and will be ineligible for All-NBA honors next year, as well.
What are the salary cap/luxury tax implications of the suspension for the Grizzlies?
The Grizzlies will receive luxury tax and roster relief, and 50% of the suspended amount will get credited to the Grizzlies’ luxury tax — but at the end of the season. Memphis will also receive an extra roster spot with the Morant suspension. Any player who is suspended by the NBA for six or more games will be transferred to the team’s suspended list following the fifth game of his suspension.
With the start of the new league year July 1, how could the suspension impact the Grizzlies’ free agency plans?
The Grizzlies have backup Tyus Jones on the roster as a replacement with Morant out. Where the suspension might hurt is that the Grizzlies have a glaring need at small forward with Dillon Brooks set to enter free agency and his return unlikely. With Morant suspended, is a trade asset such as Jones now off the table? Outside of making a trade, Memphis has the $12.2 million non-tax midlevel exception and three picks in Thursday’s draft (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN app), including a first-rounder.
What impact does the suspension have on Memphis’ outlook in 2023-24? Who will replace Morant in the lineup?
Morant’s suspension damages the Grizzlies’ projection in the West, but Memphis will still have a quality starting point guard. The Grizzlies frequently refer to Jones as the best backup point guard in the league, and he has proved to be more than capable of filling a starting role.
In 22 starts last season, Jones averaged 16.4 points, 8.1 assists, 1.8 steals and only 1.5 turnovers while shooting 50% from the floor and 41.5% from 3-point range. The question is how Memphis will handle the backup point guard minutes in Morant’s absence, whether it counts on starting shooting guard Desmond Bane to take care of those duties or finds a different option in the draft or free agency.
How have the Grizzlies performed with Morant out?
Extraordinary well. The Grizzlies are 34-15 in games started by Jones over the past two seasons, including the playoffs. Morant is a superstar who raises the ceiling in Memphis, but the Grizzlies have been more solid defensively and had better ball movement with Jones in the starting lineup.