There is no consensus among NBA scouts and executives about the 25-game suspension that commissioner Adam Silver handed Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant for allegedly brandishing a handgun on social media last month. Most considered it fair.
There was consensus on what would happen if there was another incident.
“The next one,” said a Western Conference executive, “he’s done.”
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The executive was among the half-dozen scouts and executives asked by FOX Sports to assess the punishment, Goldilocks-style: too heavy, too light, or just right.
“Just right,” the executive said. “It wasn’t time to crush him, but it’s serious. The next one is a year.”
Two scouts seconded that view, seeing it as an escalation of the eight-game suspension Morant received in March after a similar incident in a Denver strip club following a game. Morant met with Silver shortly thereafter and, according to the release announcing the 25-game suspension, promised that there would not be a second time. And yet there was.
That’s why one Western Conference scout said, “Ja got off light. I am a card-carrying member of the David Stern school on player discipline. He should’ve got a half-season, 41 games, as a repeat offender.”
The scout is referring to the late commissioner Stern, Silver’s predecessor, who suspended Washington Wizards guards Javaris Crittenton and Gilbert Arenas roughly half a season for a gun incident inside the team’s locker room. The incident occurred in December of the 2009-10 season and after a league-led investigation, Stern announced in late January that Crittenton and Arenas were suspended for the remainder of the season.
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Having firearms in the locker room is a direct violation of NBA policy. Morant’s incidents happened outside any league property, which is why another Western Conference executive thought Silver “might’ve been a little heavy.” The earlier eight-game suspension Morant received fell under the auspices of conduct detrimental to the league, Silver said. This incident presumably did, too, which is why the executive suggested that doubling the previous suspension of eight games would’ve been sufficient.
“He didn’t break any laws,” the executive said. “I see it as a little different than the Arenas situation.”
An Eastern Conference scout echoed that sentiment. “I thought more would be coming, but he didn’t commit an actual crime,” the scout said. “I’m sure the league felt pressure from the players’ union (because of that.)”
Both a player agent and a Western Conference scout took note that the Grizzlies have allowed the league to do all the heavy lifting, as far as doling out punishment for Morant’s behavior. The two aforementioned incidents, after all, were not the first ones connected to Morant that the team failed to address, at least publicly. In January reports surfaced that Morant had punched a 17-year-old the previous summer during a pick-up game at Morant’s home. In February, friends of Morant trained a laser on members of the Indiana Pacers’ traveling party, but the league’s investigation could not determine if the laser had been attached to a weapon.
“When is someone with the Grizzlies going to accept some accountability for what has been going on?” the agent asked.
Collective Bargaining rules prevent the league and the team punishing a player separately for the same infraction, but the Eastern Conference scout suggested that the Grizzlies should’ve worked with the league to make it clear that they are partners in meting Morant’s punishment. To this point, they appear to be the parent, fearful of falling out of favor, who stands back and allows the other to be the disciplinarian.
“He’s such a bright young star,” the scout said. “Everyone loves him. If you’re Memphis, maybe you’re having the league add 15-20 games to send the message. How else is he going to learn his lesson?”
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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