Upon his arrival into the NBA, point guard Ja Morant has continuously defied the odds and exceeded expectations. Running away with rookie of the year in 2019-2020 whilst leading a Memphis team with zero expectations to the play-in game. He then led the charge to take down the Golden State Warriors in the play-in in 2020-2021 and then surging the very next season to lead Memphis to the second seed in the West and winning the Most Improved Player honors. Morant quickly developed a wide reputation across the association as one of the brightest young superstars, with both the individual and team success to back it up. However, that has all seemed to come crashing down this season.
The talent of Morant is undeniable. He’s one of the most elusive players the league has to offer, combining his out of this world athleticism and shiftiness with his gifted ability to create for both himself and others to round himself out as one of the league’s best offensive engines. He’s developed himself into not only one of the future faces of the league, but he’s become well-renowned as one of the ten to fifteen best players in the sport already. The problem doesn’t lie in the talent, it lies in the off-court antics.
Morant has now developed a new-found reputation for himself off the hardwood with both his actions and statements. Many were rubbed the wrong way when Morant claimed he and the Memphis Grizzlies were “fine in the West”, when they’ve yet to do anything to prove they’re the team to beat despite their young success. Although this could be deemed as simply confidence, the rest of his actions have made this statement age badly.
He was accused of a physical altercation with a teenager this past summer, where he was claimed to have struck the 17-year-old “12 to 13 times”, with the teenager claiming Morant came back with a gun. Not only that, but Morant was seen on Instagram Live flashing a gun at a nightclub in Denver, where he was then suspended and fined.
Morant’s reputation has been damaged across the league, and along with that, he’s been off the court for the bulk of the month of March. This will inevitably affect his odds of being selected to an All-NBA team, where he would be eligible for a supermax contract extension if selected. Putting this into perspective, the 6’2 All-Star could be missing out on upwards of $40 million dollars overtime from this incident.
Morant has already been affected personally due to his actions, and the worst has yet to come. But, what about the Memphis Grizzlies as a whole? They’ve clearly taken a step back this season due to this, but their future could get worse overtime as well. Morant rightfully claimed the throne as face of the franchise for the next five plus seasons, and with that comes leadership responsibilities. Being a team leader, you have to be capable of putting your teammates in situations to succeed, on and off the court. Morant has shown he can make his teammates better in game situations, but if he can’t unite the team, how will they stay connected?
Not many have discussed these potential problems, and this can raise question marks for the future of those within the organization. Morant’s behavior as of late is not normal, and it could serve as a cancer for others around him. Players are highly influenced by the culture of their team, and that’s something that gets set up by the leader of the franchise. With Morant being placed into that role, it’s his job to keep that culture stable and motivated to grow together. However, with his immaturity off the court, that could be too much to ask for.
If the Memphis Grizzlies want to keep their reputation as one of the brightest young teams in basketball, they’ll need their star to refocus and bring everyone together. Look at all the teams who have made runs to the promised land the last decade. Nearly all of them have a leader who keeps the culture in check, without distractions from outside actions. If Morant can unite this team, the sky’s the limit for this franchise. However, if not, expect a quick downfall for this era of Grizzlies basketball.