The Commercial Appeal
Morant will bounce back, but when?
They’re dissecting Ja Morant’s entire life now.
The Memphis Grizzlies star point guard invited them to the moment he showed up on Instagram holding an apparent gun in a Denver area gentlemen’s club during the wee hours of Saturday morning. They’ve greeted him with a range of opinions, some almost as reckless as the behavior that turned Morant into the biggest sports story in the country these past few days.
They’ve admonished and advised him. They’ve criticized Morant’s father and questioned the company Morant keeps. They’ve pointed out the warning signs Morant and the Grizzlies did not take seriously enough until Morant made his most self-destructive decision of all last week. They’ve speculated about the ramifications of a police investigation, and whether Morant brought that gun with him on the team’s plane, and if the Grizzlies actually suspended him, and the additional punishment he could face from the NBA’S investigation.
But in the rush to label Morant, to comment on what happened and what could happen, there’s an unmistakable feeling that this story is turning into something it’s not under the withering realities of modern media consumption. That everybody taking their shots at Morant is forgetting what’s eventually going to happen.
Morant will come back from this. It’s just a matter of when, and how long it will take.
That is actually the most compelling part of this tale – the Grizzlies’ best player being sent away from an NBA team for an indeterminate amount of time in the midst of a playoff chase – if only because the rest of it has been told so many times before.
Here is a 23-year-old who was probably partying too much and evidently lost sight of who he was during his ascension to superstar status. He is grappling with the glare of fame, and he’s unlikely to be the last NBA player or actor or musician to do so. He is neither a victim nor is he doomed by his missteps, in spite of the hit his reputation has rightfully taken. This is still a case of Morant finally growing up and acting like an adult, and acting like someone with hundreds of millions of dollars riding on how he carries himself.
So the question of when he returns, of when it’s appropriate to return, of when he can begin to redeem himself, should hover over every conversation that brings clarity, much more than the judgment and insinuations that accompanied this series of negative headlines.
Could Morant be out days? Could he be out for weeks? Could he miss the rest of the season? Could this linger
through the offseason?
It all seems possible right now, with Morant out of sight, his whereabouts unknown to the public, and the Grizzlies trying to avoid any definitive statement about their star player’s future at the moment.
“We’re talking about Ja being in a better place personally and also professionally,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said before Memphis lost to the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday, “so to put a timetable on it is disrespectful, in my opinion.”
How this proceeds from here will define the franchise as much as it will define Morant. How the Grizzlies come out of this, how their relationship with Morant evolves through this, will be far more important to dissect than any second-guessing of what Morant has already done.
Jenkins’ words, combined with Morant’s statement of contrition from Saturday, would seem to back up the notion that Morant will miss more than the two games Memphis has committed to him not playing. Jenkins has cited support and accountability as the primary goals of this hiatus, and the meaningful changes everybody involved wants Morant to embrace might ring hollow if he’s back playing basketball again Thursday against the Golden State Warriors at Fedexforum.
The potential for criminal charges, and further NBA discipline, complicate the matter even more. Then again, so does the Grizzlies’ perilous place in the Western Conference standings. They are tied with the Sacramento Kings for second place entering Wednesday after nearly two months of diminishing results. They cannot get to where they want without Morant. They also may not have been able to get there with the version of Morant who got into this mess.
So where does basketball fit into all of this? Where do Morant’s teammates fit in? Does he actually need more than a few days to figure out how to behave like an adult? The embarrassment of this last week has to have convinced him to alter his lifestyle, right?
The answers to these questions will help define this moment, but this moment does not have to define Morant’s life.
He’s going to come back and he’s going to play for the Grizzlies again. They just have to decide when.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto