Ja Morant’s looming punishment will be severe, but will it deter from another incident?

NBA

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DENVER — Even the Lakers and Celtics would have a hard time being overshadowed by what’s coming to Ja Morant.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver tried his best to lawyer his way through the wording, but it was clear the verdict on Morant will be harsh and perhaps groundbreaking. Silver knew it would dominate the news cycle for more than a day and that these NBA Finals, or any other for that matter, didn’t deserve to be upstaged by such a black mark.

Morant appeared to have another gun on an Instagram Live video weeks ago, leading to his suspension from the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s hard to say what Morant is actually being suspended from participating in at this time, but we do know what he’s suspended for: playing in your employer’s face.

The list is long and, scarily, it doesn’t appear he has yet hit rock bottom. After all, before this latest incident his Nike commercial was displayed all over the playoffs and until only recently did Nike begin to limit the release of his first signature shoe.

Perhaps it was fitting Silver was a few miles away from the scene of Morant’s first public transgression in March at the strip club Shotgun Willie’s where he flashed a gun — again, on Instagram Live.

“So in assessing what discipline is appropriate, if that’s the case, we look at both the history of prior acts, but then we look at the individual player’s history, as well,” Silver said Thursday. “And the seriousness, of course, of the conduct. Those are all things that get factored.

“It’s not an exact science. It comes down to judgment at the end of the day on the part of me and my colleagues in the league office.”

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant could be facing unprecedented punishment by the NBA. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant could be facing unprecedented punishment by the NBA. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

How the science is determined is by a full-length investigation. Best believe the NBA used every resource it could find — team security, who often have FBI or military backgrounds, as well as local law enforcement to determine Morant’s activities.

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“In terms of the timing, we’ve uncovered a fair amount of additional information, I think, since I was first asked about the situation,” Silver said. “I will say we probably could have brought it to a head now, but we made the decision, and I believe the players association agrees with us, that it would be unfair to these players and these teams in the middle of the series to announce the results of that investigation.”

That’s a mouthful, even if it wasn’t Silver’s intention. We already know plenty about Morant’s activities, in large part because he has displayed them on the internet. The reported altercation at a Memphis shoe store inside a mall, the backyard beating Morant allegedly gave a 17-year-old over some perceived disrespect. Then you add the laser-pointing situation with the Indiana Pacers’ traveling party that the league didn’t quite validate, not only does it give the appearance the NBA should’ve come down harsher on Morant sooner but this punishment will be one of note.

The recently retired Carmelo Anthony comes to mind here, in a conversation he had with late commissioner David Stern following an altercation in New York when Anthony was a young Denver Nugget.

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Stern’s words to Anthony after he handed down a 15-game suspension in 2006: “I know who you’re with. I know where you living at, I know where they live at. I know when you close your eyes and when you wake up and I know what they’re doing, he’s telling me. You either tell them to stop or you cut them off.”

The spirit of Stern was likely evoked by Silver in his findings.

And considering Silver brought up the NBPA in his statement, it certainly suggests the suspension will be so severe the first inclination will be for the NBPA to challenge it through arbitration — but doing it in conjunction will mean once it comes down, the ruling will be final without possibility of an appeal.

Silver wouldn’t say whether Morant will be available to start next season, but it’s hard to picture him doing the griddy on opening night in October.

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The commissioner isn’t in an impossible position, but there’s a line he’s walking. Sure, the punishment will be punitive given Morant’s now-public rap sheet, but it also has to be a deterrent from this happening again — which is what he thought he was accomplishing when giving Morant an eight-game suspension in March.

Silver was asked if he should’ve come down with a heavier hand, given all he knows now. The exhaustive investigation the league has recently conducted should’ve been done sooner.

“I’ve thought about that, and [NBA executive vice president] Joe Dumars, who is here, was in the room with me when we met with Ja, and he’s known Ja longer than I have,” Silver said. “For me at the time, an eight-game suspension seemed very serious, and the conversation we had, and Tamika Tremaglio from the players association was there, as well, felt heartfelt and serious. But I think he understood that it wasn’t about his words. It was going to be about his future conduct.

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“I guess in hindsight, I don’t know. If it had been a 12-game suspension instead of an eight-game suspension, would that have mattered? I know it seemed based on precedent, and he’s represented, and we want to be fair in terms of the league, it seemed appropriate at the time. That’s all I can say. Maybe by definition to the extent we’ve all seen the video that it appears he’s done it again, I guess you could say maybe not.”

At heart, Silver is a fan of the players, knowing they’re the league’s greatest currency. And he’s a fan of Morant, too. He knows Morant’s importance to the NBA, USA Basketball and Nike. So he doesn’t want to throw Morant out with the bath water here.

In addition, he cares for Morant’s humanity — Silver, like most, wants Morant to turn this thing around and not be a cautionary tale. Silver knows Morant is at an inflection point in his career, and perhaps even his life.

Playing around with guns in a place like Memphis doesn’t usually have a happy ending, and not even Morant’s popularity and massive wealth can prevent him from street justice if that’s what someone determines.

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It certainly sounds extreme but perhaps only a trade will save Morant from himself. Even then, that feels like Memphis is the problem and not Morant’s own actions. There’s a Memphis everywhere in the NBA, if we’re being honest.

Morant didn’t go through the prep gauntlet so many players do now, where they’re poked and prodded, then reminded at a very young age how they have to be mindful of their actions before they physically mature.

It’s not a safeguard because some players just find themselves in a mess regardless of pedigree, but Morant’s rise out of nowhere means he skipped critical steps in terms of handling attention.

And whether he’s a studio gangster or one in real life doesn’t matter when it comes to the NBA handing out justice. Morant took an olive branch of grace from Silver and spit on it, in essence.

Whenever the announcement comes, it’ll be an opportunity for Morant to do more than attend a fast-food rehab but truly assess where he’s going and if he wants it all to end sooner than it should.

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