On Ja Morant and so much more ...
Our Monday morning review of copious around-the-league happenings can start in only one place: The crisis in Memphis
Do I overuse the term March Madness every single March?
Am I going to do it again this March even though my college basketball interests begin and end with Cal State Fullerton?
How can I resist? Just a few days into March 2023, madness is an apt description for what we've seen so far in the NBA.
Which necessitates a meaty Monday helping of reactions, opinions and musings in response:
🏀 When the Memphis Grizzlies unexpectedly vaulted from a projected No. 8 in the 2019 draft lottery to the No. 2 slot, it was hailed as a potentially franchise-saving moment.
Hyperbole? Not necessarily.
The Grizzlies were indeed confronting the end of an era and the loss of their identity after trading away Marc Gasol ... and with a deal to ship out Mike Conley Jr. looming. Morant's arrival would swiftly and legitimately give the Grizzlies renewed viability in one of the league's smallest markets.
In Morant, who was regarded as one of the two surefire cornerstone players in that draft alongside No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, Memphis suddenly had the ability to draft a player capable of becoming the best in franchise history to build around when nothing of the sort was expected going into that lottery.
Taking Morant after New Orleans selected Williamson afforded an organization with little hope of reloading through free agency an instant bridge to a rosy future in the wake of the Grit n' Grind Era.
It's not overstating things to say, with even louder conviction, that one of the league’s most electric performers has one job for the foreseeable future:
I don't think a ton of elaboration on that last sentence is needed. Pretty much everyone should see the gravity of the situation and Morant's need to make major changes in his life after Saturday's stunning events.
Mere hours after a loss in Denver, Morant livestreamed himself via Instagram with a gun — mere days removed from a report in The Washington Post detailing that Morant and some of his associates “have been accused of threatening and even violent behavior." By night's end Saturday, it was announced by the Grizzlies that Morant would be away from the team for at least two games, followed by a profuse public apology from Morant.
The mea culpa was pretty strong. Yet Morant nonetheless finds himself the focus of an investigation by the league office for the second time in 2023 — not yet three months into this calendar year — thanks to horrendous choices that could derail a career of seemingly boundless promise if they continue.
There had been mounting concern at league level for months about Morant's off-court behavior and associates in his circle, stemming from multiple July incidents covered in The Post's report that was published on March 1. Then what we saw Saturday went to a whole new disturbing level.
My former ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith said it so well Saturday night on the ABC pregame show. Before Philadelphia's impressive triumph in Milwaukee to bring a halt to the Bucks' 16-game winning streak, responding to the notion that the company Morant has kept was the larger issue, Smith so clearly underlined that Saturday's video featured Ja himself, toting an apparent firearm on his own social media channel, thus putting this all on Ja to repair. Urgently.
The rest should be on the self-explanatory side from here, but my pal Chris Mannix has a piece for Sports Illustrated (linked above) that spells out in even greater detail everything that Morant has put at risk with both the Grizzlies and corporate partners Nike and Powerade. Don’t forget: The five-year supermax deal Morant signed last season, likely to exceed $200 million after another All-NBA selection, doesn’t even kick in until next season.
🏀 The Knicks have emerged, without warning, as the best story in basketball.